Yet another video tutorial on GIMP – this time explaining how to create a fire animation for use in 2d pixel sprite based games.
Here’s my video on YouTube, showing how you can draw a simple bush in 2d pixel art style in GIMP.
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. 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.
- or vice versa, if you’re left handed
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.
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 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.
- 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
- which also include those scissor-switch keyboards in laptops as well
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 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 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 and AutoDesk SketchBook.
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 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 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.
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.
- paid software, iOS/iPadOS only
- free, available for both Android and iOS/iPadOS
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
- The so-called digital zoom offered by many phone cameras is not zoom at all
- Even most budget point and shoot cameras lack fine grained control like aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual modes
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 or a dynamic site. 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.
- pure static content, no server side scripting or interaction with the user
- pages are dynamically generated and served on request, and allows user interactivity
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 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.
While WordGrinder is deceptively simple to use, just below the surface tucked away in a useful menu, it does expose features like semantic markup and basic character styles. 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.
- sadly incomplete, long abandoned now
- heading levels, lists, paragraphs and more
- bold, italic and underline