Why mechanical keyboards

Why mechanical keyboards

In recent years mechanical keyboards have seen a resurgence in popularity, mainly because of enthusiast and professional gamers. On Amazon, a search for mechanical keyboard reveals a plethora of gaming keyboards with back-lighting and special multimedia/game-ready features testifying to their popularity. My own interest in mechanical keyboards began in or around 2010-11 when I discovered the legend of the venerable IBM Model M keyboard the original buckling spring keyboard, which has unmatched typing characteristics compared to even modern mechanical key switches . Thanks to my brother, I got my hands on a used German layout Model M a few years ago, so I can attest to the Model M being unique. The Model M’s base clacking noise can be a bit loud even for those tolerant of regular “clicky” keyboards.

Though I’ve mostly used my laptop over the years and not regularly used a mechanical keyboard, I also own a TVS Gold keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches[1].

Recently I’ve had occasion to start using my mechanical keyboards on a regular basis once again. To those who’ve never typed on a mechanical keyboard, it can be quite a revelation to start using one. The normal “membrane” keyboards[2] have a mushy feel to them, where you need to press the key fully to be sure that it has registered. The lack of tactility in rubber dome/membrane keyboards mean that your fingers never get the actual feedback of key actuation. But not all mechanical keyboards are tactile, clicky or both. In fact, there are also mechanical key switches that are non-tactile (linear) and non-clicky and yet they offer different advantages to the clicky and/or tactile kind.

There is a lot of literature on the internet about the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical keyboards and the wide variety of key switches available, so I’ll restrict myself to personal experience. Here are my own thoughts on the advantages of tactile, clicky mechanical keyboards, meaning those with mechanical key switches that offer a tactile “bump” on actuation, and also a physical click sound which gives audible feedback of keystroke registration

  • Much pleasanter typing experience overall – the overall experience of typing on a mechanical tactile keyboard cannot be described. It has to be experienced. I can type several pages of long form content using a mechanical keyboard and still not feel my fingers start to tire or ache. Of course, the pleasantness of clicky keyboards may not be appreciated by those who don’t like the continuous rattling noise especially in a quiet office atmosphere.
  • Less finger fatigue – yes, despite the soft feel of membrane keyboard buttons, typing on them continuously can get tiring on the fingers especially since one needs to exert enough pressure on each keystroke to bottom the keys out, since there’s no actual point at which you are sure that the key stroke has registered. I’ve used both Cherry MX Blue and the buckling spring keys of the IBM model M and I think both are excellent for typing long form text.
  • Greater typing accuracy – I’ve found that using a mechanical keyboard has not only increased my typing speed but also increased my accuracy, mainly because I don’t accidentally double press keys or sometimes miss keystrokes for lack of enough pressure on the key.
  • Sturdier construction – mechanical keyboards are more expensive, but are also solidly constructed. Of course, nothing beats the IBM model M for sheer weight and sturdiness, but most mechanical keyboards are built to last much longer than their cheap membrane counterparts. Even the TVS keyboard, which is less expensive and built with cheaper materials compared to premium mechanical keyboards, feels quite well-built and durable compared to the ultra-cheap garden variety membrane keyboards manufactured these days.

To me typing long form text on a membrane keyboard feels painfully awkward these days, particularly laptop keyboards and I do prefer to hook up a mechanical, full-size keyboard to my laptop whenever possible. While I understand that most people won’t appreciate the benefits of mechanical keyboards, particularly the ones considered too “noisy” for regular use, luckily there is still a large enough market for them thanks to the large segment of enthusiast and professional video game players.

Finally I leave you with an old video of me testing out the IBM Model M keyboard:

and another video, wherein I type on the TVS keyboard (note the not-so-subtle difference between the sharp click of the MX switches and the distinct base clack of the buckling springs):

If you are somebody who spends a lot of time typing, a suitable mechanical keyboard may well be an excellent investment.

  1. at least back then, the TVS-e keyboards shipped with genuine Cherry MX switches. These days, I understand that they use Long Hua, a Chinese clone of the blue switches. I can attest to the fact that TVS did use genuine Cherry Blue switches earlier and in fact, my own TVS keyboard is a genuine Cherry MX Blue keyboard, and the confusion arises because a few years back TVS have stopped using them[]
  2. which also include those scissor-switch keyboards in laptops as well[]
Alternative touch screen device input methods

Alternative touch screen device input methods


I am not a big fan of touch screen devices for input. I may be old school, but I think touch should not be a primary mode of input for any reasonably complex computer with a small display area (which most smart phones/tablets are). Touch input is best used for simple menu based information retrieval systems where the screen has a grid of large icons and at best, require simple numeric input occasionally. Unfortunately the smart phone revolution has ensured that touch input has become the norm on mobile devices. On-screen text entry methods are not ergonomic and quite inefficient for typing large amounts of text by design, because these devices are primarily meant for voice/video communication, portability, and consumption of information and entertainment, not content creation.

But using a powerful smartphone/tablet just for communication, information or entertainment consumption seems to be a gross under-utilization of their computing power. As I pointed out in an earlier post, apps like Collabora Office allow mobile devices to become reasonable productivity devices. Both Android and iOS have a wide variety of productivity apps for note taking, photo-editing, digital painting, music composition and much more.

There are, of course, some common alternatives to touch input on mobile devices. In this article, I’ll explore some of their advantages and limitations.

Passive styluses

Passive styluses are simple, cheap alternatives to using a stubby finger on small screens. But they are just that: finger substitutes. They need a reasonable contact area with the screen which makes them not quite accurate for touching an exact point on the screen. Besides, stylus touch is not recognized as any different from using bare finger/hand touch, so if you plan to draw or write using a stylus, then you have to make sure your palm and fingers are off the device surface to avoid unwanted input. To me, styluses are a fairly comfortable alternative to using bare fingers for basic user-interface functions like swiping, scrolling, mark-making and on-screen keyboard input on smaller screens for fat-fingered folk.

Advantages: very cheap and usable on all capacitive touch screen devices.

Disadvantages: almost as inaccurate as using finger for touch input; not distinguished as a distinct input type by the device.

Active pens

“Active” pens are a more recent technology as far as touchscreen mobile devices are concerned. The most famous examples are the Apple Pencil (1st and 2nd generation) and the Samsung Galaxy S-Pen. Of course, there are quite a few third party active pens for supported Android tablets and Apple iPads. The distinguishing feature of active pens are that their input is treated as distinct from actual touch input thus allowing for touch rejection/palm rejection when they are in use. They are usually battery powered and use bluetooth/NFC technology to communicate with the devices. Their biggest advantage is that they are small-tipped and allow accurate and smooth writing on the screen, meaning that they are practical for note-taking and also doodling/drawing.

Of course, with some active styluses like the Apple Pencil and Samsung’s S-Pen you get extra features like pressure-sensitivity and tilt-sensitivity, making these pens useful for digital painting and artwork with apps like Procreate[1] and AutoDesk SketchBook[2].

Advantages: very accurate, allowing for short note taking and doodling/drawing apart from substituting for the basic touch operated functions; treated as distinct input from touch allowing for additional features like touch/palm rejection while in use and pressure sensitivity and tilt sensitivity.

Disadvantages: usually expensive; specific to devices that support them only; battery operated and thus require recharging from time to time; pen tips are subject to wear and tear and may require replacement after prolonged usage.

External Keyboards

External keyboards for mobile devices fall into three categories: wireless (bluetooth), wired and proprietary. Bluetooth keyboards are less expensive, more common and made by numerous third parties and work with Android, iOS and even Windows devices. Compact wired USB keyboards that can be plugged into Android devices with USB ports are available, but these are rarer these days. Specialized keyboards with proprietary connectors made for specific hardware like the Apple Smart Keyboard which work only for Apple iPads are quite expensive. The best choice in my opinion is bluetooth, since bluetooth works with most devices. In this segment, there are quite a few external keyboards which come with integrated protective cases for specific model of tablets which make them convenient to put away safely with the device when not in use.

Advantages: allow for more comfortable typing than on-screen keyboards, making longer text entry more ergonomic and efficient for things like e-mail composition and shorter documents.

Disadvantages: are quite cramped compared to full sized desktop or laptop keyboards; bluetooth keyboards require pairing and consume battery power, so require regular recharging; external keyboards, however small or lightweight, make mobile devices just a bit less portable.

Voice input/dictation

Voice input/dictation mode has become popular with the increasing computing power of mobile devices. But having used voice input a few times, I can say that voice recognition is still a bit faulty and voice input is unsuitable in noisy environments and also environments where you are not expected to disturb those around you, like open office environments. I personally haven’t much use for voice input, but I think it’s a convenient method both for recording short snippets of information in the form of voice memos or for dictating short e-mail messages or SMSes. A third common use for voice input is voice commands using tools like Siri and Google Assistant for common tasks.

Advantages: No external physical device required, hence zero cost; convenient for voice commands for common device actions and dictation of short e-mails/messages.

Disadvantages: Unsuitable in noisy environments and in environments where speaking aloud will cause disturbance to others.

Final thoughts

While I’ve covered the common methods of input in mobile devices, I believe heavy-duty input is still a big issue in mobile devices, with or without external accessories. Long form text entry is the biggest issue and only external keyboards resolve the issue to some extent. While text input through touch can be slightly improved using third party apps to replace the in-built traditional QWERTY layout on-screen keyboards, having to use touch itself is an ergonomic problem that cannot be resolved in software.

If at all you plan to use a tablet or mobile device for regular long form text entry, the best choice remains a cheap external bluetooth keyboard. Passive styluses are best for fat-fingered people who just want a more elegant touch input method. Specialized and more expensive devices such as active pens make no sense for long form text entry despite text-recognition technologies like Apple Scribble. Their use case is taking short handwritten notes, marking up PDF documents and doodling/painting.

  1. paid software, iOS/iPadOS only[]
  2. free, available for both Android and iOS/iPadOS[]
Pre social-media online presence and disappearance

Pre social-media online presence and disappearance

A recent blog post from my brother on social media led me to think of online networking before social media giants like FaceBook and Twitter became popular. In those days, the main source of online networking was through blogging, internet forums and sites like Flickr which catered to a fairly niche audience (in Flickr’s case, photography). And those days, people rarely used their real names online. Most people went under a pseudonym, also called a “handle”. While in the case of blogging many chose to blog under their real names, on web-based forums and pre social-media networking sites, people usually chose a pseudonymous handle. There was basically no compulsion to reveal your real name or identity unlike on modern social media which strongly encourages you to link you to identifiable details like mobile number, your first name, middle name and surname and also associate your identity with all mutual friends, friends of friends and so on. All this contributed to something of a mystique around an online identity without any revealed real-world connections.

The point of this post is that pre social-media online identities made it almost impossible to find out why a person suddenly disappeared from an online existence, which is disconcerting especially if you have interacted with that person a lot. I had a lot of blogging friends back in the day who simply stopped blogging and disappeared after a few years, completely removing themselves from any traceable online presence. Even those with real names are near impossible to trace if they have no social media presence. I don’t think a lot of the old-school bloggers and those who were prominent on internet forums have a social media presence these days, at least on the popular mainstream ones. I think I am one of the few rare bloggers who maintain an online presence from 2005 till date. I am not sure of percentages but I would hazard a guess that around 90% of the blogs/forums I used to follow back in 2005 have disappeared, either completely or probably resurfaced on social media without any connection to their earlier online presence. And of the people I knew who stopped blogging, very few recognizably resurfaced on social media.

I am not sure of the reasons for sudden online disappearance, which could be varied. Maybe people chose to remove themselves from the virtual world for privacy reasons, maybe they lost interest, their life situation changed, career pressures took over, family responsibilities came in the way or (sadly) just passed away. Such is life.

In so far as the internet is concerned, the disappearance of a person from online activity does not always mean complete removal of all traces of the person — it’s not rare to find long-dead blogs/websites still preserved on free services like Blogspot or WordPress and in the case of paid domain names which have expired, it’s even possible to retrieve an archived copy from services like the Wayback Machine.

From another angle, it may actually be a good thing to have the option to totally and completely wipe out an online identity and associated content permanently. As of today, I doubt whether this is technologically feasible, what with all the massive archiving of content by different web services and providers. As they say, once it’s on the internet, it’s probably there forever, even if the creator has long since disappeared, mysteriously or otherwise.

The limitations of mobile photography

The limitations of mobile photography

Of late, I’ve been doing quite a bit of photography with my mobile, earlier on my old iPhone 5s and now on my new Samsung Galaxy M31s, a decent mid-range Android phone. Though I appreciate the advances in mobile photography in recent times, it’s obvious that there are quite a few limitations with mobile devices, some of them practically impossible to overcome. But before getting into the article, here are a couple of photos I’ve recently taken with my Samsung M31s from which it’s obvious that mobile photography has come a long way in terms of photographic quality as well as creative control.

Solanum Torvum
Macro mode on the Samsung Galaxy M31s – a dedicated macro lens allows for some creative control otherwise not possible on mobile cameras
From the terrace
64 MP primary camera test – the ability to capture so many pixels allows for a fair bit of cropping

As you can see, mobile phones these days come with extra lenses (and sensors) for additional creative control, like dedicated macro and wide angle lenses. With increasingly higher megapixels, techniques like pixel-binning are being used to increase image quality. Some years ago, such features would be almost unimaginable from a mid-range mobile phone. With effects like artificial blurring of backgrounds for the (not quite as natural) bokeh effect, auto-HDR, and creative instant filters and you’ve got a pretty decent package.

But coming to the main point of this article: what are the limitations of a mobile camera as a photography device; or to put it differently, under what circumstances would I not consider using a mobile camera?

Lack of optical zoom

This is the most obvious drawback of mobile devices — lack of (optical) zoom[1]. While a few very rare mobile models with an optical zoom barrel do exist, the fixed wide-angle lens on most mobile cameras makes it almost impossible to get clear and well framed shots of distant subjects. While prime-lens enthusiasts may disagree, zoom is a versatile photographic technique, the lack of which cuts out a whole range of subjects and creative control.

Poor low light performance

Despite so many advancements in image processing technology, one cannot get past the fact that minuscule sensors paired with tiny lenses can only capture so many photons. It’s obvious that mobile cameras, even the high end ones, struggle with low light performance because of this factor, the two biggest problems being high-ISO noise or softening of detail due to aggressive noise reduction applied by the camera processor and blur caused by camera shake due to slow shutter speeds. While it’s possible to get decent night shots with some mobiles, the quality is nowhere close to those captured with an APS-C DSLR/mirrorless camera, let alone full-frame ones. For people who love to photograph indoors or in low natural light, particularly past sunset, mobile cameras can seem very limiting.

Lack of manual controls

I know that there are camera apps which expose some manual settings in device cameras, but this is the second biggest limitation in mobile photography. While it’s nice to be able to shoot in Auto mode occasionally with a proper camera, what really makes photography interesting is the ability to experiment with settings like manual focus, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity etc[2]. With the small-sized sensors and fixed lenses, mobiles cannot do much even with such control of settings, but the lack of control takes away quite a bit of experimentation with, for example, depth of field, slow shutter speed, long exposures and so on. And even with mobile camera apps that offer manual control over settings, touch screen controls are just not ergonomic enough to use quickly and effectively.

Other drawbacks

There are other significant requirements which only proper (SLR-like) cameras can fulfill, like the ability to accurately track focus on moving subjects (for example, in Sports and wildlife photography), a much higher dynamic range, fast burst mode, ability to shoot RAW, using external flash, the versatility of being able to use different lenses for different purposes, using physical filters and so on. Of course, not everybody requires all features of a full-featured SLR-like camera, but most enthusiast photographers appreciate quite a large subset of the available features, even if they don’t reach out to use them all the time.

For the reasons I’ve mentioned, particularly the physical limitation of small sensor-lens combinations, I think it’s next to impossible that mobile photography will significantly affect the popularity of advanced point-and-shoot and SLR-like cameras among the enthusiast crowd who find these limitations unacceptable.

The one significant reason for me to cheer the advancement of mobile photography technology is that mobiles are almost always with us while we cannot always carry along a camera wherever we go, and this allows us to take photos that we would otherwise miss. Capturing those moments in super-high quality is icing on the cake.

  1. The so-called digital zoom offered by many phone cameras is not zoom at all[]
  2. Even most budget point and shoot cameras lack fine grained control like aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual modes[]
Criminal original jurisdiction of High Courts in India

Criminal original jurisdiction of High Courts in India

Scales of Justice

With the recent sensational arrest and detention of prominent journalist Arnab Goswami, and his subsequent interim application for release on bail being rejected by the Bombay High Court, I thought this would be an opportune moment to write a little piece on the criminal original jurisdiction exercised by our High Courts. Original jurisdiction means jurisdiction exercised by the High Courts wherein Petitions are filed directly before the High Court, and not as appeals/revisions from lower courts’ orders.

The law that governs the jurisdiction of the High Courts is of course, the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, though in some circumstances the High Courts can also exercise jurisdiction under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India which concern writ and supervisory jurisdictions respectively. More particularly, in the case of exercising power under the Constitution, the High Courts can issue writs of Habeas Corpus when a person is held in illegal custody by any person or persons, including the police/state. But since the writ and supervisory jurisdiction of the High Courts, even when they involve criminal matters, are generally not considered to be an exercise of criminal original jurisdiction, I’ll limit myself to the commonly exercised powers of the High Courts under the Criminal Procedure Code[1], which I’ll refer to as the Code from here on.

Bail under Section 439

When a person is arrested and detained either under police or judicial custody, he/she can approach either the High Court or a Court of Sessions for bail under this section. High Courts are empowered to grant bail, conditionally if necessary, under Section 439(1)(a) of the Code. The section states:

439. Special powers of High Court or Court of Session regarding bail.

(1) A High Court or Court of Session may direct-

(a) that any person accused of an offence and in custody be released on bail, and if the offence is of the nature specified in subsection (3) of section 437, may impose any condition which it considers necessary for the purposes mentioned in that sub- section;

Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1290514/

So, a petition for bail can be filed under Section 439 either before the High Court or the Court of Sessions. Conditions may be imposed if the offence is of the nature specified in Section 437(3), that is, for any offence carrying a maximum punishment of seven years or more. Bails for serious offences are usually granted with conditions. Conditions imposed on the Petitioner generally are (i) visiting the local police station periodically and signing a register (ii) cooperating with the police investigation when called upon to do so, and (iii) not leaving the jurisdiction in which he/she is residing without taking permission from the Court and so on. Unconditional bails are rarer, but are granted when it is shown that there is no prima-facie case against the Petitioner.

Anticipatory bail under Section 438

This section provides for the grant of what is popularly known as “anticipatory bail”, but this phrase is not actually used in the Act. Here is the wording of Section 438(1):

438. Direction for grant of bail to person apprehending arrest.

(1) When any person has reason to believe that he may be arrested on an accusation of having committed a non- bailable offence, he may apply to the High Court or the Court of Session for a direction under this section; and that Court may, if it thinks fit, direct that in the event of such arrest, he shall be released on bail.

Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1783708/

This section actually states that the High Court may pass an order that if the Petitioner is arrested in the future, he/she shall be released on bail, subject to conditions. Section 438(2) states the conditions which may be imposed by the High Court:

(2) When the High Court or the Court of Session makes a direction under sub- section (1), it may include such conditions in such directions in the light of the facts of the particular case, as it may think fit, including-

(i) a condition that the person shall make himself available for interrogation by a police officer as and when required;

(ii) a condition that the person shall not, directly or indirectly, make any inducement, threat or promise to any person acquainted with the facts of the case so as to dissuade him from disclosing such facts to the Court or to any police officer;

(iii) a condition that the person shall not leave India without the previous permission of the Court; (iv) such other condition as may be imposed under sub- section (3) of section 437, as if the bail were granted under that section.

Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1783708/

As you can see, this bail order comes into force from the moment of arrest of the Petitioner. As with bail, conditions may be imposed by the High Court or Court of Sessions. These additional conditions may be imposed to ensure that the Petitioner cooperates with the police investigation and also does not leave India without getting permission from the Court. In fact, High Courts have wide discretion to impose any condition that it deems fit and proper in the circumstances of the case.

Inherent powers under Section 482

This is a catch-all section which grants inherent powers to the High Court to make any order to give effect to the provisions of the Code, to prevent abuse of the process of Court and in the interests of justice. The provision is reproduced below:

482. Saving of inherent powers of High Court. Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent powers of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.

Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1679850/

Under this section, the High Court can pass any order in any criminal case, including but not limited to, directing the police to register a complaint, quash complaints which are obviously mala fide, transfer the case to CID, CBI or other agencies, modify or relax bail conditions, and so on. However, in exercising jurisdiction under this provision, High Courts are generally very cautious to ensure that the powers of lower Courts and investigating agencies are not unnecessarily interfered with.

As can be seen, the High Court can be approached for bail, anticipatory bail or any other kind of miscellaneous orders in respect of criminal cases at different stages. I have not gone in-depth into any single aspect or even covered all the possibilities, because the law is an ocean and I can only take a small dip into it with a cup.

  1. I’m not going into the administrative and procedural provisions of Cr.P.C. relating to the powers of the High Court. There are a huge number of provisions in the Cr.P.C. dealing with the powers of the High Court which is beyond the scope of this article[]
Static vs dynamic personal blogs and interacting with readers

Static vs dynamic personal blogs and interacting with readers

In this day and age when the average internet user’s online presence is mostly restricted to social media sites where the main form of interaction is clicking/tapping on “like” and “fave” buttons on a mobile screen, having an online identity like your own website seems like an extravagance, particularly when you choose to own a domain name and pay for hosting. But there are still many of us who remember a time before social media took over the online landscape and personal sites/blogs were still in vogue. There are a surprising number of people who still blog regularly, though the visibility of the blogging landscape has shrunk, mainly due to the focus on big-brand social platforms.

One of the fundamental decisions when you decide to create a website is whether to make it a static content site[1] or a dynamic site[2]. My brother has written a good article on this subject, in which he explains the pros and cons of each approach. He himself chose to create a static website which is generated offline through a website generation tool.

For this website, I chose to use WordPress, a popular dynamic blogging platform rather than create or generate a site with static pages. Why? Because I think interacting with readers is a big deal and having the ability to receive and record comments on-site is a better way to engage with readers than through social media. I understand that the modern approach to user interactivity is to outsource comments and likes to social media and going with the flow, but I feel that there is some value in having comments and interaction on the site itself. Not only is it easier to follow the discussion which is on the same page as the content, but it also preserves and focuses the discussion in a way that social media cannot. And this way, the website or blog owner has full editorial and moderation control which is lost when the discussion is moved off-site.

I know it’s hard to get readers to engage in this way these days and it does feel like an uphill battle having to maintain a commenting system, especially when it comes to fighting spam. But still, for whatever it is worth, I choose to keep that option open and encourage readers to comment on this blog. Good, thoughtful comments add immense value to content and I would prefer such feedback to a hundred likes on FaceBook any day.

  1. pure static content, no server side scripting or interaction with the user[]
  2. pages are dynamically generated and served on request, and allows user interactivity[]
The non-content of the Internet

The non-content of the Internet

Beware, this is a bit of a rant.

Today I clicked on “Pocket”, Mozilla’s built-in content aggregator and offline reader which is sneakily advertised in Firefox. Then found this apparently “Pocket-worthy” article among others. From its very title, I knew that it was one of those empty “non-content” articles — where a bunch of inane, rehashed, impracticable, theoretical, unoriginal, insipid and clichéd ideas written in an impersonal, often corporatey style are presented as fresh, thought-provoking, intelligent and original.

This is not about Mozilla Pocket. It’s not even about that particular article that I linked to which seems to be a bit more intelligently written than your average click-bait spam. It’s about that kind of article with that kind of title. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the linked article I’ll leave you with, to illustrate my point:

Everyone is different: not better, not worse, just different. Appreciate the differences instead of the shortcomings and you’ll see people—and yourself—in a better light.

Don’t let your fears hold you back. Whatever you’ve been planning, whatever you’ve imagined, whatever you’ve dreamed of, get started on it today.

Source: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/10-things-incredibly-likable-people-never-ever-do-and-why-you-love-them-for-it

So deep, original, thought-provoking and inspirational! 😮 Sarcasm aside, those vacuous sentences tell you nothing about the author’s personal experience, has no unique perspective or viewpoint, nothing that shows that the author cared much about the topic except to make up yet another top ten list. Typical of the kind of non-content I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with low quality content however badly presented provided at least a bit of the author’s personality and originally comes through. I don’t even have a problem with bland generic stuff like the content linked above.

Seriously, what’s annoying is that this kind of rich-on-keyword non-content is still quite popular with search engines and often takes precedence over real worthwhile, quality material. Let’s say for example that I really wanted to research how successful and likeable people behave. Instead of getting linked to actual, objective research on the subject, an expert opinion or even a more thoughtful and original take on the subject, I am forced to wade through several such spammy click-bait links before coming across something of value.

FaceBook and other social media sites are already full of non-content pages, memes, images and videos. But far too often, web pages with click-baity titles looking to generate ad-revenue, sell you an e-book and/or make you subscribe for premium content appear too high on search results.

It’s not a coincidence that such (non-)content is usually created or copied by persons or entities in the business of “making money online” for as long as I can remember. I can well understand why: it is cheap, easy, low effort investment — a website with basic SEO, the right keywords for search engines to pick up and index, click-bait titles and you’ve got a steady stream of traffic and potential ad revenue. If it didn’t work, obviously the Internet wouldn’t be full of them, hogging precious search engine visibility.

WordGrinder – a distraction free open source word processor

WordGrinder – a distraction free open source word processor

A long time back, when I was writing a novel[1], I discovered WordGrinder, a console word processor that’s designed to string prose together without any distraction. In the creator’s own words:

WordGrinder is a word processor for processing words. It is not WYSIWYG. It is not point and click. It is not a desktop publisher. It is not a text editor. It does not do fonts and it barely does styles. What it does do is words. It’s designed for writing text. It gets out of your way and lets you type.

The author wrote it to have something to write novels on.

Source: http://cowlark.com/wordgrinder/index.html

In my experience WordGrinder is quite as effective as advertised. I certainly managed to grind out many more chapters using WordGrinder than using LibreOffice Writer. There’s something strangely relaxing about typing away into a black console screen without menus, toolbars, widgets, context menus and other GUI distractions. Sadly my novel remains incomplete to this day, but that’s my own fault, not WordGrinder’s.

A screenshot of XWordGrinder on my Debian system

While WordGrinder is deceptively simple to use, just below the surface tucked away in a useful menu, it does expose features like semantic markup[2] and basic character styles[3]. Though WordGrinder uses a native format which cannot be opened by normal text editors, you can export your document to a bunch of useful formats for further processing, formatting or printing. In a way, WordGrinder is reminiscent of old DOS-based word processors like WordStar, but with modern semantic markup to allow clean document structuring. The best part is that, there’s really no learning curve — WordGrinder’s entire feature list is accessible from the menu and can be explored within a few minutes.

WordGrinder is still actively developed — the first release was in 2007 — thirteen years ago! The latest version, 0.8, released on 13th October 2020, not only has bug fixes, but new features as well. There is also a Windows version, though the application was originally developed on Linux. For a one-man open source project, that is quite impressive.

  1. sadly incomplete, long abandoned now[]
  2. heading levels, lists, paragraphs and more[]
  3. bold, italic and underline[]
Collabora Office – a full fledged LibreOffice port for mobile devices

Collabora Office – a full fledged LibreOffice port for mobile devices

A while back, I searched for a decent Office suite for opening and editing documents on my iPad and found Collabora Office, a full-fledged port of LibreOffice for Android and iOS / iPadOS. This is one of the few Open Source office suites for mobile devices around and one of the few that are almost as functional as desktop equivalents — most mobile office suites I’ve found are (a) not open source, (b) feature-limited, (c) not free and/or (d) ad-supported in their free avatars.

You can see from the screenshot that Collabora is LibreOffice, with minor caveats[1] and tweaks for the touch screen. In fact, it features the traditional desktop UI, complete with menubar and toolbar rather than a mobile-centric one, making it highly familiar for experienced LibreOffice users.

A screenshot of Collabora Office running on my iPad

I often make slight edits/modifications to documents within Collabora on my iPad when I cannot be bothered to open my laptop. One minor issue that I found is that the on-screen iPadOS keyboard doesn’t seem as full featured as with native Apple software[2]. With a compatible physical bluetooth keyboard, it might be possible to compose longer documents conveniently.

I’m surprised that Collabora Office doesn’t appear to be popular enough to merit an entry in most top-10 office suite lists for mobile devices that you can find with a simple internet search.

  1. Collabora features the equivalent ports of LibreOffice Writer, Calc and Impress, which I guess is enough for most of us. LibreOffice Base and a few other components of the full LibreOffice desktop suite are conspicuously missing.[]
  2. for example, missing auto-capitalization of the first word in a sentence, unable to type full-stop with two spaces and not working properly with some language keyboards like Tamil Anjal[]
My fascination with the Civ-style 4X genre has waned

My fascination with the Civ-style 4X genre has waned

I have always been a big fan of Civ-style 4X games. I’ve played Civilization III, V, VI and FreeCiv for countless hours in the past, roleplaying historical national leaders trying to build that supreme civilization to dominate all other civilizations and the ultimate empire to conquer and destroy all other empires. If you’ve never played 4X games before and you’re tempted to start now, be warned that they can be extraordinarily addicting and can eat up your life without your realizing it.

For more, search for “why Civilization games are addicting” on the internet. There’s plenty written on that subject.

A screenshot from one of my games in Civilization V

However, over the last few years, my interest in 4X games (and gaming in general) has actually diminished mainly because there is something vaguely repetitive about them. These days, after an initial burst of enthusiasm, I find plodding through “one more turn” more of a chore. Since the set of technologies to be researched, units and buildings to be built and paths to win tend to be more or less fixed, any new element of gameplay doesn’t seem to add enough depth to relieve the tedium — there is nothing really new to discover when playing the same game as a different civilization. Also beyond a point in any particular game (mostly after the exploration stage where discovering the map is a big motivation), it becomes quite impersonal and boring because your “Civilization” is ultimately nothing more than grinding a bunch of stats with pretty graphics. Yes, you can go to war with enemies, there is diplomacy which adds some interest, you can explore multiple paths to victory, but even those aspects becomes boring and repetitive after a while[1]. In short, I rarely find any motivation to play through a full game and increasingly find myself playing less and less.

Having said all that, do bear in mind that even during the peak of my interest I was not really more than a casual gamer; never a deliberate, calculative player in the mould of a hardcore fan; rarely experimented with fine-tuning game settings; never played multi-player against human opponents and rarely played at higher difficulty settings against the AI to challenge myself.

I don’t know, maybe I’m rationalizing my loss of interest in computer games in general though strategy and simulation games have always interested me more than any other genre. Ultimately it’s probably a good thing that I don’t feel like wasting several hours a day on Civilization any more.

  1. Yes, over the years Civilization games have found a bunch of new ways to keep players engaged, but ultimately it boils down to grinding stats[]