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Author: Hari

Painting of a dog

Painting of a dog

Painting of a dog done in Krita with my XP-Pen Artist 10s.

A street dog

Drawing an animal is a good diversion from my usual portraits as I don’t have to worry about getting the likeness exactly like I would in a human.

This is one where I’ve captured the painting process in a timelapse video. This is the first time I’ve attempted something like this and it’s really quite simple in Linux. The final few touches in the finished image have not been captured in the video though.

I’ll probably write a tutorial on how to create a timelapse video of the desktop screen some time later. In the meantime, enjoy:

Dog painting timelapse video

I hope to make a few more timelapse videos of my creation process in the future.

Portrait of Vijay Sethupathi (Master)

Portrait of Vijay Sethupathi (Master)

A portrait of tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi from the movie “Master”. Drawn using Krita with my XP-Pen Artist 10s.

Portrait of Vijay Sethupathi

Yet another portrait. This time, I’ve gone back to my trusty XP-Pen Artist 10s with Krita. Vijay Sethupathi was a challenging one to get right. I had multiple attempts from different photos, until I chose this one from the movie “Master” as a reference. Part of the problem with likeness of certain actors is capturing their personality. The other one I drew on the iPad was a poor likeness which I struggled with for hours before I discarded it. However, nothing is wasted, and I think after studying his face, I kind of got it right this time. It is a big relief, because every time I struggle with a particular portrait, I keep thinking that I’ve lost my touch.

I wanted to make a smooth portrait after the rough pencilwork, but I chose to publish this, as I think this style looks a bit different from my usual stuff.

Portrait caricature of Actor Politician Vijaykanth

Portrait caricature of Actor Politician Vijaykanth

A portrait caricature of Tamil actor-political leader “Captain” Vijaykanth. Painted on iPad using Sketchbook and Adobe Fresco.

Actor-politician Vijaykanth

Adobe Fresco is a decent ipad painting app with enough free features and good brushes to get along. Yes, you can also export as PSD which is very useful. It does use cloud storage though [1] , so if you want a local copy of your creation it is better to export as a PSD file and store it somewhere.

I am also getting used to the Apple Pencil (1st gen) and feeling less rusty than before. I hope to continue drawing and painting more regularly now.

  1. There doesn’t seem a way to turn off cloud storage and use local storage exclusively. Yes I am a bit old school.[]
Sivaji Ganesan cartoon caricature

Sivaji Ganesan cartoon caricature

After a long time I’ve revived my artwork. This one is a fun caricature of veteran actor late Sivaji Ganesan created on my iPad with the Autodesk Sketchbook app.

Cartoon caricature of Sivaji Ganesan

Yes, I do feel a bit rusty after such a long gap. Also Sketchbook on the iPad is not nearly as good or feature complete as Krita and I’m not 100% happy with the brushes in Sketchbook. But drawing on the iPad with the Apple Pencil is just so convenient compared to the desktop setup with a screen tablet pen. Probably I will end up using a different painting app.

The best way to type on an iPad

The best way to type on an iPad

Apropos of my earlier article on alternate input methods on a touch screen device, what is the best method of typing text on an iPad or other touchscreen tablet without an external proprietary or generic Bluetooth keyboard? After some experimentation, I feel that using the onscreen keyboard combined with a cheap passive stylus pen is reasonably efficient and does not put too much pressure on the fingers. Typing purely with the fingers is a sure recipe for pain because there is no “give” on the screen’s glass surface and your fingers are slamming away relentlessly on them. The other benefit of using a stylus is that a passive stylus is cheap and have a smaller surface area than your average finger and it definitely improves accuracy.

The only drawback of this method is that you need to keep moving the stylus across the entire keypad. I have alleviated this issue by combining the right hand for the stylus movement with the left thumb covering the keys on the left side of the keypad[1]. It feels faster and more accurate than typing with both hands so it’s definitely a better option. In fact this article was written entirely using the method described above.

  1. or vice versa, if you’re left handed[]
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

smartphone

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.