My idea to eat healthier on my vacation was poorly conceived. 😅

Whitefield, New Hampshire, band concert. My father-in-law is playing a song he arranged and my kids are dancing and running around the town green.

It is my family’s annual drive off to vacation day. We are all excited. I will be driving pretty much all day.

I am supposed to be packing my tech gear for my vacation, so of course I am updating all my Linux boxes and freeing up space on my file server instead.

Yesterday I wiped my old iPad, which was running iPadOS 16 developer beta 3, and reinstalled iOS 15.6. Of course, an hour after I did so, a new developer beta was released that may have fixed the Music app crashing bugs that were vexing me.

🎵 Today’s listen: Gold by Sister Sparrow. Apple Music labels it an “Alternative” album, but it is blue-eyed soul all the way. My favorite track is “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind”; it’s fierce and fun.

My writing as a child:

Why use a small word when a big word will do?

My writing as an adult:

Why use a big word when a small word will do?

🎵 Today’s listen: firstborn by Nicolle Gaylon. It is a veteran country songwriter’s first album. It is full of autobiographical songs which are, interestingly, chronologically ordered from birth to death.

The Music app on the most recent iPadOS 16 developer’s beta crashes a lot. I regret installing the beta for this reason, but it was on a device I could live without, and I did need to test one of my apps.

I don’t need a better notes app. I need to take better notes.

I want to install Linux on an old PC that I have. After looking at all sorts of reviews and videos showing the various desktops and distros I could try, I came to the conclusion that boring old standard Ubuntu would probably suit me best.

🎵 Today’s listen: Emotional Creature by Beach Bunny. I loved this emo-pop band’s debut LP, Honeymoon, a couple years ago. I didn’t know this album was out, so I’m excited to listen to it. The lead single, Oxygen, is good.

Standard Ebooks

In my quest to fill my new Kobo with some good things to read, I quickly found Project Gutenberg, which has tons of public domain books to download in various ebook formats. Unfortunately, most of its books are basically plaintext files. That is great for longevity and flexibility, but is not great for readability on an e-reader. Many (most?) of its books don’t look great on your Kindle or Kobo (or what have you).

Luckily, I found a website that fixes those formatting problems—at least for a subset of Project Gutenberg books: Standard Ebooks. From its About page:

Standard Ebooks is a volunteer-driven effort to produce a collection of high quality, carefully formatted, accessible, open source, and free public domain ebooks that meet or exceed the quality of commercially produced ebooks. The text and cover art in our ebooks is already believed to be in the U.S. public domain, and Standard Ebooks dedicates its own work to the public domain, thus releasing the entirety of each ebook file into the public domain. All the ebooks we produce are distributed free of cost and free of U.S. copyright restrictions.

So far, I like Standard Ebooks. Impressively, each of its books are available in four formats: ePub (in both “compatible” and “advanced” flavors for most e-readers), azw3 (for Kindle), and kepub (for Kobo). I wish there were more selection, but I guess that’s partly on me. I could clean up a public domain ebook and contribute it to the site.

Back to converting e-Books with Calibre

I bought the Kobo Clara HD thinking that I could side-load ePubs on it without converting them. While that is true, when you read a normal ePub—with at least some of them I have tried—you cannot change the font, margins, or line spacing. That is very frustrating.

I learned that Kobo has its own format, kepub, which is basically ePub with some extra stuff added to it. Kepub files work exactly how you would expect e-books to work. This means that I am back to using Calibre to converting my ePubs to a different format to read them on my e-reader.

This isn’t the end of the world. Calibre is an amazing piece of software, and it does just about everything you would ever need an e-book library manager and converter to do. Unfortunately, it is also the jankiest piece of software on my Mac. It is ugly (which doesn’t really bother me), it crashes regularly, and one time this week it froze so badly I had to do a hard-reboot to get rid of it.

Luckily, I don’t plan to use Calibre very often. That’s because I can also convert ePubs to kepubs with a command-line tool called Kepubify. It works great! (There is a web-based version of Kepubify, too, but I couldn’t get it to work.)

Google Fonts

I don’t always like Google’s products or business practices, but some of its offerings are great. Google Fonts is a case in point. From its (hard-to-reach) footer:

Google Fonts is a library of 1,429 open source font families and APIs for convenient use via CSS and Android. The library also has delightful and beautifully crafted icons for common actions and items. Download them for use in your digital products for Android, iOS, and web.

The site offers a wide range of free fonts, which you can test out in the browser and download for free, without jumping through any hoops. Other free font sites I have used in the past bordered on scammy, with all sorts of ads, trackers, and dark patterns that steer you toward non-free fonts. I almost always end up going to Google Fonts first when I am looking for a new font for coding or reading.

It also offers a pretty extensive knowledge base that covers why typefaces are important and how to choose them effectively.

Lexend: Change the way the world reads

When installing fonts on my new Kobo e-reader, I came across a font that I had never heard of before: Lexend. It is a free, sans-serif font with a bold mission and a rather audacious website. Here is some of its most informative copy:

In 1999, as an educational therapist, Dr. Bonnie Shaver-Troup, working with clients, began observing that reading issues masked the individual’s true capability and intelligence.

In 2000, Bonnie theorized that reading performance would improve through use of:

  • A sans-serif font to reduce cognitive noise
  • Expanded scaling to improve potential for character recognition
  • Hyper-expansion of character spacing, which creates a greater lag time and reduces potential crowding and masking effects
  • These changes led to the development of seven specially-designed fonts, which create an immediate improvement in reading performance.

This is where Lexend was formed.

There is also a Google case study that goes into some detail about the font’s unique features.

So far I installed its vanilla variant, simply called Lexend, on my Kobo and read a few pages with it. It looks nice! I can install it on my iPad with FontCase, but I can’t use it in the app I read in most, which is Apple Books. That severely limits how useful it will be for me. At some point, I would like to test it out on difficult reading material and see if it helps me stay focused and improves my recall.

First impressions of the Kobo Clara HD e-reader

I got my Kobo this afternoon, set it up, and started noodling with it.

My library card needs to be renewed, so I was locked out of logging into Overdrive to worry library books. Side-loading books was very easy, and I don’t need to convert my ePubs beforehand either, which I had to on my Kindle1. I wish the Kobo had a USB-C port instead of micro-USB, but I won’t be plugging it in too often, so that’s not a big deal.

So far, I find the reading experience to be OK. The screen is sharp, but it is really small! I had read that it was the same size as the Kindle Paperwhite’s screen, but it is, in fact, noticeably smaller. I am not sure how much I like it. I feel like I can only fit a paragraph or two onto the screen at one time. I probably just have to get used to it, and think of it as a “paperback” compared to the “hardcover” size of my iPad.

  1. MOBI is a technically inferior file format to ePub. It bugs me even though I don’t see the guts of it when I’m reading. ↩︎

ChromeOS Flex

Today I learned about ChromeOS Flex, which is an easy way to install Chrome OS on any computer:

Try the cloud-first, fast, easy-to-manage, and secure operating system for PCs and Macs. ChromeOS Flex is a sustainable way to modernize devices you already own. It’s easy to deploy across your fleet or simply try it to see what a cloud-first OS has to offer.

I don’t really have a use for it, but I wish I did. I think ChromeOS, with its Linux support for things I care about, like Visual Studio Code and the terminal, would be a fantastic OS for web browsing and some types of software development. I have been thinking about taking an old or underpowered Windows computer and putting Linux on it, but Chrome OS may be more polished and better suited to my family’s needs.

Back when I was an IT auditor, I would recommend that IT organizations at big companies shift their lower-skilled workforce from Windows to ChromeOS. Doing so would reduce support costs for their computers considerably, and would not impact their ability to do their jobs. (All their systems had a web front-end.) That was a long time ago, and there were no takers, but I still think it is a good idea. I’m glad Google is pushing forward with it, and expanding the vision beyond ready-made ChromeBooks to an installable OS.

Rubik’s Cube

I taught my daughter how to visualize and calculate volume using one of my Rubrik’s Cubes tonight.

Since school ended I June, she and I have covered most of the fifth grade math curriculum and some of the sixth grade math curriculum, too. We are just starting volume calculations, and still need to cover measurement unit conversions and graphing on a coordinate plane. Geometry is where things get tricky.

She told me tonight she wants to get 100 on all her test so she could move up to the highest math level at the end of the year. I think she can do it, as long as the school will let her.

JSON with my son

To my surprise, my son1 asked me to teach him how to use JSON in Python today. His grandfather showed him JSON files from his website earlier today, and now my son is mad for reading and writing JSON himself.

We graduated from Turtle graphics to data structures and file I/O. I introduced to him Python dictionary and the list, showed him how to converted both to JSON, and then showed him how to write the JSON to a file. In Python, it is very easy.

My wife is looking for computer science courses for him now.

  1. Who is 5. ↩︎

Impulse purchase: Kobo Clara HD e-reader

I just impulse-purchased a Kobo Clara HD. I hope it wasn’t a bad decision.

I need an e-book reader only for a few weeks each year, during my summer vacation, which is coming up soon. I have an old Kindle, which I trot out annually to read outside with during my vacation, but its lack of a backlight and its low resolution make it hard to read in way too many places—not just indoors, but outside in the shade as well. It is disappointing in every way.

I probably should have purchased a Kindle Paperwhite during Prime Day instead, but I don’t want another Kindle. I want something that handles ePubs natively, can side-load fonts, and can interface with my local library. The Kobo fits all these criteria.

It will be delivered as soon as tomorrow. I’m excited to take it for a spin.

🎧 An update on the Sony WH-1000M4

A little while ago, I bemoaned that the Sony WH-1000M4 headphones were disappointing to me. I’m happy to report they have been working pretty well as my gym headphones. The fit is pretty good (they don’t fall off unless I’m practically upside down) and the sound plus noise cancellation are more than adequate. The creakiness I observed when they were brand new seems to have gone away. My only complaint is that, when I bring my iPad with me to watch TV shows while doing cardio, it can be a pain to get the headphones to connect to it. They seem to want to connect only to my phone.

My gym almost never plays music, which is great because everybody wears some kind of wireless headphones there. I mostly see AirPods Pro around the gym, but a few people have the AirPods Max, and I wish I did, too. Their tighter fit and punchier sound, compared to the Sony WH-1000M4, would be welcome. A handful of other people at my gym use the same headphones I do, so I don’t feel crazy for not using purpose-built workout headphones there.

🎵 Today’s listen, Stop the Clocks by Oasis. It is a greatest hits album that is supposedly curated by the band to resemble on of their live show setlists. It is all the Oasis I need, and maybe a bit more.

I am excited to teach my daughter division by unit fractions this evening. I have been telling her that multiplication and division, much like addition and subtraction, are inverse functions. Now I get to show it in action, and it may blow her mind.

📺 I very much enjoyed Stranger Things season 4. After I finished it, I re-watched seasons 1 and 2 (so far), which I have not seen since they debuted. I think they hold up well and I liked them even better than the first time I watched them.