Transitioning: Tablet Life

I’m amazed at how far technology has come. I remember when I first got my iPad, I was struggling to do anything remotely productive on it. Sure, I was trying to type on the on-screen keyboard, but the fact that I couldn’t have multiple windows open, use decent copy/paste functions and cloud storage made it such a hassle to use. This was back in a time when transferring documents meant connecting my iPad to a computer and dragging files out from it. I decided not to ever use it for productivity and it turned into my gaming/video streaming device.

Fast forward about 8 years now, and I find myself using a tablet to do my work and holy shit, the experience is amazing. So much has changed since then. “Why am I not working on a laptop?” you ask. My laptop is currently at a service center for repairs (one of the USB ports isn’t functioning properly) so I needed another computer to work with (for when I’m outside or in the office). I decided to pick up an Android tablet (Galaxy Tab A10.5) as my backup computer – since I could use it to replace my dying Android tablet at home anyway. After spending the past 24 hours with it as my working machine – I think it could replace my work laptop instead.

I don’t want to spend paragraphs gushing about the device, so I’ll just summarize my thoughts on the device. The kind of work I do doesn’t require a very powerful device: a lot of word processing, the occasional spreadsheet or presentation, checking and responding to emails and research on the internet.

Why the tablet works for me:

  • Having multiple windows open on the tablet’s display is a breeze to do (you can have split screen apps and/or floating windows), with no noticeable slowdown or lag. I can easily have multiple documents open to work with at the same time.
  • I can easily plug in any of my keyboards to the tablet (via a USB A to USB C converter) to use with the tablet, and a lot of shortcut keys remain. Even better if your keyboard has mouse move commands as that lets you have an onscreen mouse so you never have to touch the tablet display if you don’t want to.
  • Long battery life – according to what I read, I think it should last 15 hours – which is plenty of time. Longer than a regular work day for me which means I don’t have to worry about charging it as long as I charge it to full before I leave the house.
  • Because Android/Google is awesome, I have all my Drive files easily accessible to me without having to do any additional settings. I just log in to Google and I’ve got everything I need.
  • The 10.5” display is more than sufficient for my tasks, and when I’m not working, it doubles up as a great video player.
  • All the apps that I use run smoothly on this machine. Don’t think I’ll be gaming with it anytime soon, but I doubt it’ll be a problem if I ever decide to game on it in the future.
  • It’s friggin light. Having to carry it around in my backpack feels wonderful compared to the laptop I was lugging around previously.

What sucks:

  • WhatsApp for some reason doesn’t allow you to run the app on multiple devices with the same phone number. I have to resort to using WhatsApp web on the tablet. It’s not the end of the world, but I don’t see why I need to rely on such workarounds – it’s 2018, everyone has multiple devices. Please implement support for it. Then again, this isn’t the tablet’s fault but I thought I’d bring it up anyway since I use WhatsApp a lot for work.
  • The screen is a fingerprint magnet – but it is only noticeable when it is off, so not really a big deal.

That ended up being longer than I thought. I’ve only spent 24 hours with this tablet, so this piece is only a first impression, I’m sure I’ll find additional things to say about it in the future. If anyone has any experience with the transition or has recommendations about must-have apps or tricks I need to know, feel free to chime in!

Curated Feeds

It’s been a while since the introduction of in popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. While I’ve always been a huge proponent of UI updates and redesigns, I was initially upset. I liked viewing stuff chronologically – it was something I was used to. However, after a while, I stopped bothering with trying to get my updates sorted chronologically, and just accepted that the algorithm knew what it was doing. So far, it’s been alright. I hardly check out updates in order anymore, since the more relevant posts do pop up on top.

But after a while, I discovered that I kept seeing posts about things I was interested in (let’s not forget the ads as well) – it was no longer showing me random stuff that I used to encounter. It has turned my feeds a little stale. Sure, it’s great to know that what I want to know is readily available – but what about all the things I never knew I wanted? It’s all buried under this circlejerk/echo chamber of a news feed. Don’t get me wrong – I like the fact that after months of me filtering my feed, Facebook now doesn’t show me things I don’t care about – but I now miss out on stuff that I might care about because I don’t know about them.

If I want to discover something new – I have to intentionally look for it – a harrowing task when I don’t know what I’m looking for in the first place. Imagine missing out on something revolutionary and life-changing because it wasn’t on your radar in the first place? You now have to rely on people you see to hopefully keep you abreast of whatever that is. I haven’t gone back to browsing my news feed chronologically (Facebook still offers the option but Twitter and Instragram removed the option unless you were viewing individual pages) – it was just something I realized not too long ago.

These days I get most of my updates from Reddit, fortunately I don’t think they have algorithms to tailor your front page according to your profile – you just get highly rated stuff from subreddits you’re subscribed to. Hopefully in the future we’ll get options to see the news however we like it – chronologically or curated. I think having the option is always a good thing. Imagine getting your email in a curated order, with no way to switch it back – that would be such an annoying feature.

Life with a Smartwatch

Excuse the potato shot

For most of my life, I haven’t been one to wear a watch. I don’t know why, but for some reason I always felt like it was a big hassle just to put it on every morning. In fact, I stopped wearing watches for such a long time that having one on my wrist felt unnatural and I would constantly leave the house without putting it on. However, that has changed over the past two months. At the end of June, I got myself my very first smart watch, and now it’s something that I miss whenever I walk out of the house without wearing it.

I avoided the smartwatch craze for a while because the idea of having to charge your watch every night seemed unappealing to me. I mean, who wants to do that right? Since then, smartwatch battery life has improved and you can go for a couple of days before having to charge it (at least with the higher end ones). I decided to get one after reading rave reviews about this entry-level watch from Ticwatch – the Ticwatch E/Express. It had a reasonable price tag (RM 699 on Lazada), ran on Android Wear, and looked pretty nice. Since I had no experiences with smartwatch prior to this one, I thought the cost wasn’t too high to give it a shot.

Setting it up was pretty straightforward – install Android Wear on your phone, sync it up with the watch and you’re good to go. Look around for some watch face apps if you’re unhappy with your current theme and download it to your watch. I’m currently running a modified version of this Adventure Time Watchmaker theme and I think it’s pretty rad. I had some issues getting data to work when not on wifi, but after troubleshooting via the official forums and Reddit I did a system reset and it has been working fine ever since.

Since I’ve been using the watch for about two months, I thought I could give some of my opinions on it, for those of you interested in getting one for yourself.

  • My watch has about 33 hours of battery life based on my usage – it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. It definitely has enough juice to power through a full day (even with heavy usage) but if you don’t charge it, it’ll die in the middle of the following day unless you decide to charge it at some point before that. It’s definitely not 48+ hours as advertised (or I have a defective model – I’m not sure what the case is).
  • The fitness features are useless for me. It was fun to play around with the heart rate monitor or check how many steps you’ve walked initially, but as time went on, I stopped using those features. I’m sure if I lived a more active lifestyle, they would be really useful. As it stands, I had no use for them. The reminders every hour to get out of my seat to walk around let me know it’s time for a cigarette.
  • Phone notifications without pulling out your phone – very useful. Responding to messages without using the canned responses: not so great. Writing text by tracing letters out on your watch is too cumbersome to be useful. Especially if you have a long reply. Responding with your voice is a step better – it works well, however the times when I have to use my voice instead of typing them out on my phone’s keyboard are very limited. When you’re in public, you don’t want to be speaking replies out loud – not to mention, sometimes it’s just too noisy as well. When you’re in a meeting and looking at messages on your phone instead of your watch, you’re definitely not in a place to be responding with your voice.
  • My favorite feature so far – making reminders or phone calls with my voice. Now that’s a feature I can get behind. Especially if you have a headset on, you can do those things without pulling your phone out of your pocket. Great when your hands are full or when you’re on the move.
  • Using it as a navigation device is pretty nifty as well. It’s definitely better than walking around with your phone in front of you. The screen’s display is also bright enough to be used outdoors during the day.
  • The watch is pretty much more of a notification responder than a full-blown mobile device. I understand its limitations due to the hardware and software, but I think this will improve in the coming years. In the future, it’ll probably be good enough to replace your smartphone by itself.
  • The performance of the watch definitely leaves a lot to be desired. Especially when you don’t leave it in always-on mode – it takes a couple of seconds to wake up. While it may not seem like a long time, it does add up over time – especially if you’re like me and forget the time very often. To solve this issue, I just leave my watch on always-on mode and have a dim display for the idle mode.
  • I like the fact that you can change the display to pretty much anything you fancy – assuming there are themes available or you’re savvy enough to create something on your own.
  • I’ve gotten used to charging an extra device every night. It’s not a huge hassle, but the watch’s proprietary magnetic charger might be a pain point in the future if it ever stops working. I think having a regular micro USB port would have been a better idea.

Those are my thoughts on my smartwatch so far – I know a lot of people have more uses for it than me (i.e. controlling presentation slides) so depending on your usage habits, it may or not be more useful. I’ve only had two months with it so my opinion might change in the future. It’s something that’s nice to have, but definitely something you can live without.

Mobile Hotspots are Underrated

If there’s one thing that people don’t use enough of these days, it’s turning their phones into mobile hotspots. Gone are the days where if you visit a cafe and it has no WiFi, you can’t do your work there. All you have to do is turn on the hotspot feature on your phone and you’re good to go. Unless you have a terribly limited data plan (which most people don’t have these days), using your phone to tether your laptop/tablet to is something you should do – unless you have terrible reception on your phone.

Benefits? You get to use 4G speed, which is better than the WiFi you get from a lot of places in KL. Especially when a cafe/restaurant is busy and full of other people leeching it as well. Better security – while most WiFi networks are usually pretty secure these days (gone are those days of Firesheep), it just feels better knowing that you have traffic going through your own cellphone instead of through a router that the public is accessing. You can use it anywhere and anytime you want. You’re no longer bound to venues and their opening hours. Sit in your car or on a park bench somewhere to work if you feel like it.

Sure, on some phones it might affect the speed of your battery drain, but if you have a decent phone (something that most people already do these days), it shouldn’t be much of an issue. You can always use powerbanks or charge your device with your laptop or a power outlet.

Also, if you don’t use up that phone data, what else are you going to use it for? At least in my experience where I have WiFi at home and in the office, my data goes underutilized on most months and I end up spam watching HD YouTube videos before my data renewal date just to feel like I got my money’s worth. In case you’re not sure about how to turn your phone into a hotspot (there are a thousand different phones out there so I can’t give you a guide here) you can do a simple Google search to find out. It usually falls under Settings > WiFi > Hotspot/Tether on Android phones.

Now go out there and enjoy your freedom enabled by your mobile devices! (though some people may say the ability to work anywhere is a curse, and not a blessing)

Cashless

Today I left home without bringing my wallet – something I only realized when I was lining up to pay for my lunch. Fortunately, it was before I had received my food so it wasn’t really a problem. I had to go home to get my wallet and I wasn’t far from home. But then a thought occurred to me – this wouldn’t be a problem if I had some sort of mobile payment system on my phone. But even if I did, the restaurant I was at didn’t support mobile payment. It’s already hard enough to find lower-end places that accept credit cards. I think by the time this country has support for virtual wallets nationwide, we would have eyeball or wrist implant wallets.

One one hand, I see why businesses don’t support virtual wallets – there aren’t enough users. However, without any businesses supporting them, people are unlikely to bother signing up for them. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Another issue present is – which wallet does a business choose to support? It’s not like Visa/MasterCard where you’ll find support for either one everywhere. There are so many digital wallet systems available, it’s hard to pick one over the other. Would it be feasible to support all of them? I’m not sure about the paperwork, but I would assume it would be a nightmare to settle it at the end of every month/week/quarter.

On the other, digital wallet support would make it so much easier for consumers to spend money. Instead of lining up at ATMs to withdraw money, people can wave around their phones to pay for stuff when they have no cash on them. People won’t have to worry about getting robbed anymore (everybody has their phone protected these days right?) since they won’t have their cash on them. When you make paying such a simple process, people can spend more money impulsively.

But there’s no telling how long virtual wallets will last, and if it’s going to be the main form of payment (the world of tech moves so quickly – these systems could easily collapse and be replaced by something more efficient any time). But it would be nice to enjoy them in the meantime. Like how Touch and Go is being used by almost every car park today, I’d love to see a greater adoption of convenient technologies.

Scheduled TV Shows

If there’s one appliance at home I use less than the fridge at home, it’s the television in my living room. If I watch a TV show these days, it’s mostly on my tablet or my laptop. Either streamed or torrented. Why? Because I don’t like scheduling my day around a show. Unless something is live or I’m going to a cinema to watch a film, I like to decide when and where I consume content. But life wasn’t always that way.

Back then we had to wait up to catch movies on terrestrial TV because there wouldn’t be any reruns. If a movie was showing too late, we’d have to record it and catch it the following day. Thankfully the VCRs we had could fast forward. I remember having to pause recording during adverts back then if we wanted to record something seamless. It was quite a fun activity to do. You’d have to remember to pause and unpause during commercial breaks (also, why does paid TV still have ads? we pay for it after all). This skill translated to my Walkman days when I used to rip songs off the air. I had to make sure I started and stopped recording before the DJ came back on.

Did you remember catching test cards on TV?

One thing that I’ve learned while working in the content division of a TV network is that programming schedules matter a lot. TV channels will be running shows 24 hours a day, but not everybody is sitting in front of the TV all day long. You need to run your best programs when they’re sitting in front of it. The rest of the day you can put your not-so-hot shows on because nobody watches them. This is why we have terms like prime time. Also, with slightly better than average movies like Peter Rabbit succeeding at the Box Office, it shows us that timing makes a difference.

Despite the existence of video on demand, I don’t think regular TV channels will ever die out. It’s so easy to just turn on the TV, flip to a channel and just watch whatever’s on. There’s no need to think about what you want to watch (a problem I face sometimes). There are a few benefits to this system. Occasionally you’ll tune into a movie that’s showing the best part and hook you in until the end. It could have been a movie that you were likely to skip due to it not being the kind of show you enjoy or a movie with a slow start. It’s also great for older people and younger kids who don’t really know how to search for content. They can literally tune in and tune out.

Maybe in the future, VOD services will have certain channels that autoplay shows tuned to your preferences and every now and then they’ll play something that they think you might like. We need to give them more of our personal data first. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The latest season of Silicon Valley has been great by the way. I’m looking forward to see how Jared’s character progresses as COO of Pied Piper. His monologue about the analogy to horse manure was so good.

Pertinent Layers

After using my 40% keyboard for two-and-a-half months, I’ve managed to map out a layer that works for me. While most of you are probably wondering, why did I bother with such a small keyboard in the first place? I already have a standard sized keyboard on my laptop.

Well, when you’re spending so much time in front of the computer, wouldn’t you want to type on something that feels good? I know I do. The laptop keyboards if definitely sufficient, but it’s not great. Lack of travel, feedback and programmability. And of course, most importantly, a e s t h e t i c s.

The 40% board is great for traveling – I can’t leave my keyboard at work, so having something light and portable is important for me. It may not seem that much smaller than a 60% keyboard but when you have a tiny backpack like me, every cubic centimeter saved is important (gotta pack more bags of drugs in there).

For non-mechanical keyboard enthusiasts out there, you’re probably wondering how on earth someone could possibly use such a tiny input device. Well, after experimenting with many different layouts on the Vortex Core, I’ve come up with something that works for me and the work I do. It’s nothing fancy, but with it I can easily type characters like ‘ and / which weren’t mapped to the non-function layer by default. I’ve also mapped control, alt and windows to the HHKB layout (I’ve gotten so used to it) and moved escape to a function layer so tab is next to Q. I’d love to do a lot more, but I’m limited by the current functionality of the board.

I still miss the number row when entering passwords, but I’m dealing with it. I even put the number row key caps on my keyboard to help me out in that department. Eventually I will have them all memorized. After using this layout for a while, I’ve come to realize that I could even do away with 3 of the keys on the keyboard, which would make something like the Pearl usable for me (damn, those sexy blockers) – something I would have never dreamed of before using a 40% keyboard.

Anyway, here is a diagram of the layout that I currently use. Feel free to use it or offer any suggestions if you think that you can make it better! I didn’t put down the Shift + Fn1 layers since those can’t be changed (they symbols are mapped from !@#$%^&*() on Ctrl to L respectively).

I can’t wait for Vortex to make the Core completely customizable, I already have plans for how I want to tweak this board even more in the future.

Touch Typing

Over the weekend, I was looking up for some tips to improve my touch typing skills and I learned something I can’t believe I had never thought of before: keep your index fingers on the home keys (F and J on a QWERTY keyboard) if you’re using your pinkies to hit keys like escape, backspace, control, tab or shift – this will allow you to quickly return to the home row and reset your fingers in the correct typing position. It was something so simple yet effective. This prompted me to scour the net for more tips that I could use. Turns out, there aren’t many tips available online that I didn’t already know. Unless there’s a hidden cache of advice hidden available somewhere on the internet, the only other thing I’ve managed to takeaway is that practice is everything.

Like playing the guitar or a video game, typing is very much all about muscle memory. Think about words you type very often: your own name, words like you, me, them, they, the – I’m pretty sure most of you can touch type them without any effort. However, if I were to give you a word like adscititious, it would probably take you a moment to type it out. But if you keep typing the word over and over again, you’ll be able to type it quickly. Basically, you have to practice typing until you are at the stage where you’re typing words instead of letters. It’s like being so familiar with a guitar chord that you can press it without having to look at the fretboard, or pulling off key combinations to execute a special move for your video game character.

While I don’t think I’ll consistently surpass 100 wpm anytime soon (I type fast enough for my current job anyway), it’s something I hope to achieve naturally in the long run – once I’ve typed the most common English words enough times to make them all muscle memory. But for those of you who are interested in learning how to touch type, here are some helpful sites.

Keybr– a site that helps you memorize where each letter is on your keyboard and analyzes which keys you’re struggling with.
10fastfingers – a great site for practicing the most common English words
Type Racer – a popular online typing game where you race against other people by typing out a passage of text quickly and accurately

Music and the Internet

If there’s one thing I am extremely thankful to the internet for, it’s how much it has enabled me to enjoy music. Beyond allowing me to listen to new music that I would have never discovered otherwise, the internet has been a great teaching tool. Thanks to the wonderful people out there who have spent their time transcribing song lyrics and tabbing guitar parts, I can easily learn how to play and sing a song with a few clicks.

Sure, it doesn’t make learning the song any easier, but the fact that I don’t have to spend time trying to figure out what notes are being played and what words are being sung saves me a lot of time. I can head into the nitty-gritty right away. We can also watch video tutorials to figure out the right way to play songs. Back then, we’d have to ask friends or teachers to learn the songs so that they could teach it to us.

And thanks to the internet, I can also easily publish a song for the whole world to hear, just like that. Back then you’d have to record something to a CD or tape and pass it along by hand. Crazy. It’s because of the internet we’ve had so many musicians breakout and become commercial successes. Sure, it also enables a lot of crap but fortunately we’ve been blessed with the sense of hearing so we can learn to ignore what we dislike.

In addition to learning about music, the internet has opened my world to instruments. It’s easy to find out what your favorite guitarist plays and how to replicate their sounds. You can read all about an instrument you want to buy before pulling the trigger. If you’re unsure of how to use its features, video tutorials are available. Same thing for recording software.

When you think about it, it’s insane how much music is enabled because of the internet. It’s one of the things I’ll be forever grateful for, and I can’t imagine a world without such a tool.

Topre and Me

A couple of years ago if you told me that I’d be spending an exorbitant amount on keyboards, I would have told you that you were crazy. Well, fast forward to now and I eat my own words. Ever since I fell in love with the hobby (if you can even call it that – since I don’t assemble my own boards yet), I’ve been on the lookout for new keyboards to try out. Different layouts, sizes and switches.

However, one of the switches that I never had an opportunity to try were the polarizing Topre switches. There were a lot of people raving about them and on the other hand there were people saying that Topre switches were just expensive rubber domes. I had to find out for myself – but that was an impossible task since I didn’t have friends with Topre boards for me to try out and retail stores here didn’t carry them either. Fortunately, I had a friend in Japan last week and thanks to him, I have one of the most iconic 60% keyboards in existence – the HHKB Professional 2.

While I had never tried Topre before, I was a fan of the keyboard’s design and layout so that made it an easy buy for me. Also, I figured, if I wasn’t a fan of Topre I would have no problems reselling it on the secondhand market. Turns out, I don’t even need to consider that option because man, I’m in love with the switches. Tactility is different compared to the almost non-existent bump on MX Browns, and it’s at the top of the key press instead of midway. It feels great to type on – each keypress when bottoming out gives a nice, solid ‘thock’ that sounds like music to my ears.

In terms of aesthetics, the retro colorway and non-gamer Sans Serif font is perfect for such a timeless keyboard that hasn’t really changed since 1996. Despite it having a plastic shell, the keyboard feels extremely sturdy and is heavier than I expected.

The learning curve is pretty much zero, since I’m used to 60% boards and I’ve been using a similar layout for the past few months. My only real complaint with the keyboard is that my control key rattles more than I’d like it to. Other than that, I love the HHKB Pro 2 so far. It’s only my first day with the keyboard but I can see myself using it until it gives up on me (which hopefully won’t be any time soon!).