Shareware Beach

Thursday, 28 February 2008

I Love to Write

Filed under: Marketing,Personal — Jan @ 18:31

When I was seven years old, my mother gave me the typewriter that she had used in college. You know, one of those things on which you hurt your fingers smashing letters onto paper, so you don’t have to be embarrased about your illegible handwriting. Though it was just a toy at first, I soon started typing up whole stories of my own creation. First I’d type a draft on cheap paper. I’d then correct the draft with a pen, and retype it on nice paper.

Four years later, I got my first PC, and a copy of WordPerfect 4.2. During the DOS days, WP was what MS Word is now. My writing output soared, as I now had a keyboard that didn’t hurt my little fingers any more. Well, at least not until a decade and a half later. Not to mention that I could just type the draft, edit it, and print the final version without retyping. What a concept!

By the time I moved on to high school, I also moved on from writing stories to writing software. Software that actually did something was far more exciting than text that just lay there. I didn’t really have an audience for either form of creativity.

My writing skills have come in handy when I actually started publishing my software. Writing good documentation is just as difficult as writing the software in the first place. No wonder that the average piece of software, or even the average piece of anything, comes with lousy documentation.

When I developed PowerGREP, I didn’t just put a table of supported regex tokens in the help file, as most competitors do. I wrote a full-blown regular expression tutorial. You can’t use PowerGREP if you don’t know anything about regular expressions. Documenting how PowerGREP works without explaining the product’s core technology seemed pointless. Later, I published the regex tutorial separately at, which attracts top search engine rankings.

Content always beats gimmicks. You can do SEO until Google puts you at the top. But it’s pointless without worthwhile content. The Back button always sits at the top. Sure, screen shots and even flash demos are definitely needed when promoting software. But without good supporting text, a screen shot is just a picture that says very little.

One thing I took away for myself from the ESWC 2007 was a resolution to write more. In fact, I resolved to write something every single working day. That “something” could be a blog post, a new page for one of my sites, or new documentation or samples. It doesn’t really have to bring in any money, as long as somebody will read it and find it informative.

The hardest part in writing, at least for people whose main job is something else, is to simply do it. The main goal of my one-piece-a-day routine is to build the habit of writing things. Take this very blog post you’re reading now. Once I was past the first two paragraphs, the words easily flowed. In fact, trimming down my articles is something I need to work on. Voltaire wasn’t kidding when he said he didn’t have time to make it shorter.

The hardest part, for me, is just sitting down and starting to write about the topic I have in my mind. There’s always a million things to do, and writing never seems to make it to the top of the list, unless I force it to be by setting aside a set time for it every day. I’m not writing daily yet, but I’m getting there.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Best Fruit

Filed under: Personal — Jan @ 13:49

The best fruit is of course that which you get from your garden. Unfortunately, real estate prices in Bangkok’s suburbs being what they are, all we have are two mango trees.

Ripe mango fresh from our garden

Peeled ripe mango

Sliced ripe mango

Yummy mango

Thursday, 14 February 2008

A Pound of Apples

Filed under: Personal — Jan @ 18:39

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. So how about a pound of apples (or other fruit)?

Early this year I read Steve Pavlina’s blog that he was going to try eating only raw foods for 30 days, an experiment that’s been concluded now. Steve is a shareware author turned personal development blogger. While I’m not going to try anything as extreme as eating solely fruit and uncooked vegetables, it did give me the idea to make some changes to my diet.

On June 1st last year, a new fitness club opened close to our house. My wife pushed me into joining with her. Though we’ve made generous use of our membership ever since, I actually gained weight. More than could be attributed to muscle growth. Though I’m hardly overweight, I didn’t like the trend.

The change I made was to eat only fruit before noon. The main reason is that fruit is quickly and easily digested. I spend my time before lunch on the most difficult aspect of my job: software design and development. That takes a clear mind rather than a heavy stomach. The second reason is that prior to my diet change, I used to eat very little fruit. While we’d always have some fruit in the fridge, I just never get around to eating it between or after meals. I eat more fruit a day now than I used to eat in a week. That can’t be unhealthy. And the final reason was that it should stop the weight increase, and maybe even reverse it. A stomach full of fruit doesn’t give you nearly as many calories as a stomach full of cereal.

While Steve had his ups and downs during his trial, my change took me no effort at all. And I gained all three benefits I was looking for. While eating only fruit may seem boring, my breakfasts are actually far more interesting now. I eat all kinds of different fruits. The past few years I just had cereal for breakfast, sometimes with a few bananas. Though I’d buy different kinds of cereal, the variety between them is much less than that between all the kinds of fruit I can buy.

In fact, I’m enjoying the fruit diet so much that on many days, I only eat one regular meal. Usually, my wife will make us a meal for lunch. In the evening, if we don’t go out, I’ll just grab some fruit. It doesn’t take any effort to prepare, beyond a little peeling. I do seem to sleep better after a light fruit meal than after a heavy dinner.

Dragon Fruit

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

One-Handed Keyboards

Filed under: Hardware & Gadgets — Jan @ 17:46

A DataHand review I found on the net, mentions that the DataHand is unusable with just one hand. That’s absolutely true. Because the keys are grouped together per finger, you really have to use the correct finger positions to type at any speed. Using the wrong hand to press a key is totally cumbersome.

I do have a one-handed keyboard. It’s called the FrogPad. It’s designed to be used with portable devices like PDAs and cell phones. You hold the device in one hand, and use the keyboard with the other. The FrogPad is small and very thin. It easily slides into its protective cover and your pocket. I have the USB version of the FrogPad, which I use with my Samsung Q1 UMPC. The Q1 has no keyboard other than an on-screen one. There’s also a Bluetooth FrogPad for devices without a USB port (or if you just can’t stand wires).

The keys on the FrogPad are roughly the same size as those on a normal keyboard. The most common letters, at least for English, can be typed directly. The other half of the alphabet is formed by holding down the green modifier key while pressing the letter key. There are separate modes for symbols and for the numeric keypad.

The FrogPad works great for typing in passwords, search queries, etc. It takes less than an hour to get the hang of it (i.e. typing while looking at the keys, without frustration). I don’t know how long it would take to become proficient at it (i.e. typing blindly at speed). I’ve never tried to use it for anything beyond quick newsgroup posts. But it’s certainly way more comfortable than the on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition that the Q1 runs.

If you often have one hand unavailable, for whatever reason, you could plug the FrogPad into your desktop PC’s USB port. Use your regular keyboard for two-hand typing, and the FrogPad for one-hand typing. Typing on the FrogPad with one hand will be faster than typing on any two-handed keyboard, including an ordinary keyboard.


A company in the UK called Maltron sells special single-handed keyboards. These have regular keys, like on a Cherry keyboard. There’s one key for each letter. Given the size and price (295 GBP) of the Maltron keyboard, keeping lying around one on your desk like you could do with a FrogPad is not really an option. But if you permanently have only one (free) hand, it does look like a worthwhile investment.

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