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!).

Limited Connectivity

One of the interesting things I experienced growing up is the state of our connectivity. I grew up in an age where internet access was non-existent, available and slow, fast, and now prevalent. These days, if we didn’t have internet access on our phones, we’d feel extremely lost and disconnected. It never used to be the case. Internet connectivity used to be a privilege, a bonus and now it’s a requirement. No, this isn’t going to be a post about how kids these days are constantly glued to their screens at dinner (I’m guilty of such behavior; damn you Six Match, why are you so addictive?) – it’s just something that I thought of while trying to connect to a public wifi hotspot today.

There’s nothing wrong with using an internet-less computer. In fact, it helps with productivity. I can imagine if I was online now, I’d be watching Liquid vs OG at DAC instead of writing this blog post. So it’s alright to have no connectivity every now and then. I’ll just catch the NoobfromUA highlights tonight. It’s times like these I’m glad to have my music collection stored locally. Although I’ve used Spotify in the past, it hasn’t replaced my need to have music on my hard disk. Just knowing for sure that I can play any song I like without having to worry about my internet connection or if Spotify’s servers are working is a good feeling. Sure, it’s a hassle to collect discographies of obscure artists, and my music collection takes up a lot of disk space – but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Over lunch, there was a short conversation about tour guides and how it’s not something a lot of people enjoy these days. I hypothesized it was due to the availability of information on the internet. If you were to visit a brand new country in the coming week, I’m sure you could do a quick search to find out places you should visit, things you should avoid and so on. Then, from the comfort of your own home you could plan your whole trip without having to rely on a tour guide. Benefits of your own trip? Not having to do things you don’t want to do and being able to set your own schedule (nobody wants to wake up at seven, especially when you’re on holiday).

The internet is wonderful, and I would dread going back to a life without it. It can help you with your work, yet it can hamper your progress as well. It’s all about self-control and moderation. Don’t let it turn into a vice – it should be a tool.

RIP Uber Malaysia

So it was announced yesterday that Grab had finalized the deal to purchase Uber in the region and not long after that, I started receiving emails from the company informing me about it. As of now the Uber app still works (I checked, it will stop working on April 8th), so I guess I can still use my weekly promo codes to get around.

While I have no opinion on monopolies (it has never really affected me since I am an informed consumer who makes choices based on research and opinions), I think it’s kinda shitty that Uber had to fold to its only competitor in the region. After all, Grab was a copycat of Uber – it makes me wonder how an imitator could outdo the original so easily.

My favorite feature about Uber was its global presence – it didn’t matter which country in the world I was in, I could use the same app on my phone to get a ride. Since I don’t go overseas so often anymore, I guess it’s not much of an issue. But coming this April, I’ll have to install Grab on my phone. I have an account which I used once because I had a promo code, haven’t touched it since.

I’m not sure if Grab does the same thing, but I enjoyed receiving promo codes every week for free short distance trips. Great for going to Mid Valley on those days where I didn’t feel like looking for parking. Also, I took Uber rides just because of the promo codes.

I don’t have any complaints about Uber – it has saved me loads of money since I didn’t have to get scammed by non English-speaking taxi drivers in foreign countries. It also saved me the trouble of directing drivers to my destination since the address would be on their phones. I’ve only had one bad experience using Uber here (dude followed Waze blindly, getting me to the airport later than I had planned) and it wasn’t the app’s fault (a shitty driver is a shitty driver). So with a heavy heart, I bid Uber farewell. Grab, make me happy about the buyout.

A handy guide to Windows shortcuts

Whenever I watch someone demonstrate something to me on their computer and they navigate through clunky menus instead of using shortcut keys, it irks me. So in honor of those people who aren’t using their computers efficiently, I’ve decided to write a handy shortcut guide to make their lives better. I’ll keep it as general as possible and include only commonly used programs. If you have suggestions for any other shortcuts, let me know and I’ll consider adding them to the list. Here we go!

Windows 10
These should work on older versions of Windows as well – also, you should have upgraded if you haven’t already.
Windows + D : minimizes all your programs to reveal your desktop. Great ‘boss key’, also great if you need to access something on your desktop without minimizing every open window.
Windows + M : minimizes your current window
Windows (to open the start menu) then type the name of the program you want to launch : this should let you launch the program of your choice without having to click through multiple menus or look for icons on your desktop. It should work for most programs installed on your computer. If it doesn’t work, you can use the shortcut below.
Windows + R : brings up the run dialog which will allow you to run or open any file on your computer. Most of the time you will need to get the filename of the program correctly i.e. winword for Microsoft Word, not word.
Windows + E : opens Windows Explorer. Something I use on a daily basis, and I’m sure you will too.
Windows + Left/Down/Up/Right : snaps the window to the corresponding edge of the screen. Windows 10 will also allow you to select another program to fill the other side of the screen if there are any available for you to choose from. It will also allow you to move windows across multiple monitors. Down will restore and minimize, while up will maximize the window.
Windows + L : log out of Windows. Great for when you need to leave your PC unattended without having to sleep it or shut it down.
Windows + . : brings up the emoji menu for you to easily insert emojis into whatever you’re typing.

Alt + F4 : exit the current program. When you have no programs open, this will bring up the dialog for shutting down your computer.
Alt + Tab : cycle through your running programs.
Windows + Tab : cycle through your current programs with a larger preview, also gives you the option to create additional desktops on your monitor.
Alt + Space : brings up the menu bar for your current window. From here you can hit the shortcut keys to Restore, Minimize, Maximize, or Close it.

Ctrl + Backspace : delete a word. This saves you so much time. Make it a habit. It allows you to easily erase words instead of tapping the backspace key multiple times. You can also double-click a word to select it and hit backspace/delete to achieve the same effect. This shortcut deletes characters from where the cursor is until the next space on the left.
Ctrl + Delete : Same as above, except it deletes instead, so it will delete characters from where the cursor is until the next space on the right.
Ctrl + Escape : Brings up the start menu. If for some reason your Windows key is broken and you want to bring up the start menu, this shortcut will do that for you.
Ctrl + Left/Right : this shortcut lets you jump through your text word by word instead of letter by letter. It will place your cursor to the beginning of the next or previous word. Words are clumps of texts separated by spaces or punctuation.

Ctrl + Shift + Left/Right : highlights text, one word at a time.
Shift + Left/Right/Up/Down : highlights text, one character at a time.
You can also use Home/End/Page Up/Page Down with the shortcuts above for bigger jumps.
These shortcuts also work in Excel, letting you select cells instead of words.

Windows Explorer
Ctrl + Shift + N : create a new folder.
Shift + Delete : delete a file or folder without sending it to the recycle bin. Be careful when using this – I’ve deleted files that I didn’t want to delete using this method before. Fortunately I could just download them again.
F2 : rename selected file or folder.
Ctrl + Click : add a file or folder to your current selection.
Shift + Click : add files or folders from the current position and everything in between where you click to your current selection.
Alt + D : jump to the address bar – in the event you would like to type out a location instead of manually navigating to it.
Shift + Double click : open a folder in a new window.
Ctrl + Drag : create a copy of selected items at the location you drag to.
Shift + Drag : move selected items to the location you drag to.

The shortcuts above should improve your Windows experience significantly once you have memorized them. Here are some additional shortcuts for some commonly used programs. More will be added in the future.

Google Chrome
Ctrl + W : closes the current tab.
Ctrl + Tab : jumps to the next tab.
Ctrl + Shift + Tab : jumps to the previous tab.
Ctrl + T : opens a new tab.
Ctrl + Shift + N : opens an incognito window.
Ctrl + F5 : forces a complete refresh of the current page.
F5 / Ctrl + R : refreshes the current page.
Ctrl + N : opens a new window.
Ctrl + 9 : jumps to the last tab.
Ctrl + 1 - 8 : jumps to tab 1-8.
Ctrl + -/= : zooms in or out of the page.
Ctrl + 0 : resets the zoom.
Ctrl + click on link : opens a link in a new tab. Can also be accomplished by clicking a link with your middle mouse button.
Shift + click on link : opens a link in a new window.
Alt + D or F6 : places your cursor on the address bar and selects the URL, allowing you to easily copy/paste/or type in the address bar.
Ctrl + J : opens your downloads page.
Ctrl + H : opens your history page.
Ctrl + F / F3 : search the current page.
Ctrl + D : add the current page to your favorites.

VLC
Space : play/pause a video
Shift + Left/Right : jump back or forward a few seconds.
Ctrl + Left/Right : jump back or forward a minute.
T : displays the time remaining for the current video.
Mouse scroll up/down : increases/lowers volume.
M : mute.
F : toggle fullscreen mode.