Plan Your Astronomical Observations with Nightshift for Android

Nightshift: Stargazing & Astronomy is one of the best Android apps for planning astronomical observations and assessing visibility conditions.

Through a combination of charts and data cards the app shows at a glance the observing conditions on a given night. It provides information on cloud coverage, moonlight, rise and set times, angular altitudes, celestial events, and the visibility of various bodies such as the planets and deep-sky objects. In addition it can compute visibility predictions for telescopes and other optical instruments.

The strength of Nightshift is it presents and summarizes effectively a wealth of relevant data in a clean, simple format that’s quick to scan.

I Deleted My Facebook Account

I have deleted my Facebook account today, July 4, because Mike Elgan’s declaration of independence from Facebook inspired me. However, even if many others delete their accounts today, Facebook won’t likely notice any fluctuations in the noise of a rounding error.

Why?

Why did I delete my account? I’m not against tech giants. For example, I feel comfortable with Google and use Amazon. But Facebook repeatedly crossed every possible line to such an extent it’s difficult to see any good faith or willingness to change.

It’s easy for me to delete my account because I never used Facebook much. It may be more difficult for others who have many contacts and use the platform extensively. As a self-published indie author it’s going to be challenging for me to do without one of the major advertising and promotion platforms authors rely on.

So be it. I’m embracing life without Facebook. Even in business.

Space Apps for Android, 1 Jul 2019

On July 1, 2019 I released a new version of my book Space Apps for Android: Discover the Best Astronomy and Space Apps. It’s a work in progress I self-published to Leanpub, a platform for Lean Publishing.

What’s New

The changes in this version focus on the revision of chapter The Moon. I added an introduction, removed the entries of two apps that are no longer available or don’t work (Elevation Moon and Moon Tours), updated the other entries, and added section Chrome OS to all the apps in the chapter to report on how they work on Chrome OS.

Why I Want a High-End Chrome OS Experience

There are lots of cheap Chromebooks that provide a great value and are good for many tasks.

This may be the reason many just can’t wrap their head around why one may want a high-end, premium Chrome OS device like a Google Pixelbook. They think it must be for running some kind of fancy Linux or Android apps, or for processing huge amounts of media and data. See for example these Reddit threads where some users wonder in disbelief:

I have such a high-end Chrome OS device, an i7 ASUS Chromebox 3 with 16 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD. But I got it for doing the exact same stuff a cheap Chromebook can do, just with better performance.

That’s it.

Peggy K’s Tips & Tricks for Creators, Collectors & Curators blog is the best resource for keeping up to date with and learning about Google’s products.

Peggy covers the changes in features and policies and the possible alternatives to removed functionality, explains how new products and features work, provides handy tips, and more. Even experienced users can find in the blog something they didn’t know.

NoCode is a directory of tools for creating websites, apps, forms, logos, mockups, and other resources without coding. It’s useful to entrepreneurs and creators who want to build products or projects with little or no software development experience.

Feedly's AI Assistant Misses the Point of RSS

Feedly is testing an AI assistant that short-lists selected articles based on user preferences and machine learning.

However, such an algorithmic recommendation feature misses the point of RSS and feed readers, the ability to skim all the headlines of a feed in chronological order. If I want algorithms to organize my feeds I might as well use a newsreader like Google News or a social platform like Twitter.

With features like this Feedly is apparently trying to differentiate, attract more users, or pivot but they’re neglecting the core reading experience. For example, it took Feedly several years to update the Android app and some of its usability issues still have not been addressed. And search, one of the key features of paid plans, is so ineffective I gave up on it long ago.

David Yates posted a good overview of the IndieWeb, Untangling the IndieWeb, where he concisely explains what its major protocols are supposed to do and how they work. But the most insightful part is his definition of the IndieWeb:

IndieWeb is about using the World Wide Web itself as a social network, through a set of open standards for communication and identification of content and people.

This post is especially welcome as the IndieWeb is still confusing, even for tech users.

Via @ton.

I have downloaded my Facebook data ahead of deleting my account. It turns out I never used it much. Over the 4-5 years I have been active on the platform I generated 4.1 MB worth of data.

By comparison I have used Google+ daily since day one for 8 years until it was shut down and I downloaded around 1.7 GB of data.

Leanpub and Lean Publishing

I published my book Space Apps for Android to Leanpub, which, unlike other self-publishing platforms, focuses on works in progress rather than completed books.

This is unusual and unique in the self-publishing space and, since Leanpub is less known than the major players like Amazon KDP and Apple Books, I often have to explain how Leanpub works when discussing it with other authors. Therefore I decided to put together this overview I can refer to.

Lean Publishing

Leanpub bears its name from Lean Publishing, a process for publishing works in progress inspired by the Lean Startup methodology.

A book is seen as the product of a startup. You write and release successive improved versions of the book, get feedback from readers, and iterate. Although Leanpub is genre-agnostic, the process is best suited to non-fiction and technical works on topics that change frequently, such as computing and technology, or that you plan to keep up to date.

An advantage of Lean Publishing is you can start earning from a book as soon as you have an early, possibly incomplete draft.

The Publishing Toolchain

The Leanpub platform provides two major features. The first is a Markdown-based publishing toolchain and workflow for creating books and online courses. The toolchain comes with a range of options for writing and storing the manuscript like GitHub, Dropbox, or Google Docs.

It takes just one click to build a new version of a book from the manuscript and generate the ePub, Mobi, PDF, print-ready PDF, and InDesign ebook files. The build process hides a lot of complexity and produces files that look good on a variety of ebook reading devices and platforms, without requiring many time-consuming tests and manual fixes.

Although Leanpub gives its best with Lean Publishing and works in progress, it fully supports publishing traditional completed books.

Publishing a new version of a book lets you optionally send an email to readers with a summary of the changes. The readers who opt-in can thus be notified of the latest version and download it.

You can use the generated ebook files to publish anywhere else, with the Leanpub team’s blessing. Or you may upload your own ebook files if you prefer to make, say, the ePub or PDF versions.

It’s worth noting that, although you can try Leanpub for free, in most cases publishing requires a reasonably priced monthly subscription or paying a one-time fee.

More specifically, it is possible to publish for free but the free plan provides only 20 previews. You run a preview to generate the ebook files and check what they look like. Even books with few formatting problems need at least half a dozen previews to fix any outstanding typos or issues and if you go over 20 you have to switch to a paid plan.

The Storefront

The other major Leanpub feature is a storefront for selling books, courses, and other content.

You get 80% of the book price and the online store is pretty versatile. First off, it supports a variable pricing scheme in which you set a minimum and a suggested price but readers can pay more, which they sometimes do.

There’s also single or multiple author bundling. With a few clicks you can create and sell a bundle of your own books as well as bundle yours and other authors’ works with their permission. For multi-author bundles Leanpub takes care of automatically splitting the royalties based on the rules you set.

Leanpub lets you sell also additional digital content related to a book such as slide decks, videos, worksheets, photos, infographics, source code, or any other file. Another nice feature of the storefront is the ability to sell packages with multiple copies of a book that may be of interest to, say, teams within a company, clubs, schools, or other organizations. In a way it’s like selling site licenses.

Learn More

Here are a few resources for learning more about Leanpub and Lean Publishing:

I finished reading Shoot for the Moon and I confirm my positive early impression. The well researched, detailed account of the Apollo 11 flight is rich in stories and anecdotes even if the facts are well known. The book has a handful of minor inaccuracies though. 📚

I Want My Bezel Back

JR Raphael wrote a great piece on the insanity of smartphone screen notches and holes: The enduring absurdity of our smartphone bezel obsession. He points out the compromises punching holes into and cutting out parts of screens in the name of no bezels imposes for little or no design gain, which often defeats the whole point of making those changes to screens in the first place.

Beyond aesthetics there are also practical drawbacks to using a device with thin or no bezel. I can’t tell how many times I inadvertently touched or activated unwanted user interface elements of apps on my Pixel 2 XL Android phone, which still has some bezel. This typically happens when I grab the device ringing for an incoming call, which often results in a declined call because I touch the wrong areas close to the edges of the screen.

I use only Google phones and I’d prefer they focused on providing genuinely useful features such as true optical zoom (no, Super Res Zoom doesn’t qualify) rather than chasing questionable design decisions and fads with collateral damage like the bezel.

I want my bezel back.

Markus Pössel posted the review paper A Beginner’s Guide to Working with Astronomical Data. It’s a comprehensive overview of processing astronomical images, spectra, and catalog data with application software and Python. The value of this paper is it collects into a single resource a lot of material available elsewhere, and provides guidance on getting started with working with the major categories of astronomical data.

Why Bloggers Still Don’t Provide an About Page?

The default About page of the blogs hosted at the Micro.blog microblogging platform contains the following placeholder text:

This is the placeholder text for your about page. You can edit this text under Account on Micro.blog.

Googling this string returns 145 results as I write this. It means over 140 bloggers didn’t provide any information about themselves or their blogs. And this is just a single blogging platform.

Why bloggers still don’t provide such a basic resource as an About page in 2019?

It’s completely understandable they may not want to give away any personal information for privacy reasons. But, if a blog is public, why not help potential readers and write at least one or two lines telling what are the main topics it focuses on?

I found the killer use for my Google Home Mini: listening to podcasts and audiobooks while in bed. It’s good bedtime content and I can operate the device completely hands-free.