THINKERBIT DARK MODE

How to disable the "Switch person" button in Chrome

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The Chrome team started rolling this out last month. It adds a button with your first name to the top-right corner for easy profile-switching.

Since I'm the only user of my computer this extra button is totally useless to me. Here's how to disable it.

1) Paste chrome://flags/#enable-new-avatar-menu into Chrome's URL bar and hit Enter
2) At the top, set "Enable the new avatar menu" to "Disabled"

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3) Click "Relaunch Now" at the bottom of the window

First impression of the Surface Pro 3

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Last week my Dad got a 128GB, Core i5 Surface Pro 3, and of course I had to play around with it before I head back to Tufts for my last semester.

Here are some quick thoughts.

The Cover

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It literally stinks beyond compare

This caught me completely off guard. It's by far the worst smelling piece of technology I've ever smelled. It's typical for gadgets to have a unique out-of-factory smell to them, but the Surface cover emits a gas that's probably poisonous. Maybe it's the glue or the dye or something. Whatever it is, the cover assembly line should include an "airing out" stage prior to packaging.

The smell has mostly gone away after being open for a few days, but it's not exactly a great first impression.

Buying the cover separately makes sense, but still feels odd

You open the box up and there's plenty of space for a cover, but there isn't one. I knew this, of course, but it's an accessory that's so integral to the Surface's productivity claims that it really feels like it should be included, SKU count be darned.

The trackpad is only passable

For occasional navigation I think it's fine, but it's too small and too finicky to be comparable to a MacBook. Swipe gestures also seem to be disabled out of the box, which frankly doesn't surprise me.

After years of using a ThinkPad trackpoint (the red nubbin) my brother has gotten used to, and actually prefers, the trackpad of the Lenovo Yoga. I don't think anyone could like or really get used to the Surface's trackpad in the same way.

The keys aren't half bad, although they take getting used to

I could type pretty darn quick after getting used to the travel of the keys and the spacing between them. I didn't do a speed test, but I was probably within 20 wpm of my speed on an external Apple keyboard (which was 82 wpm in 2012).

The brightness keys are misleading

The two brightness keys control the backlight of the keyboard - not the actual screen of the Surface. I don't really see why switching between a few levels of key brightness is important; they should control the screen instead.

(There's a keyboard shortcut to change the screen brightness, but it's very obscure and involves hitting the delete key, which makes no sense)

It's missing a second magnet

The magnet that props the keyboard up is clever and works pretty well. A second, slightly weaker magnet to hold the cover in place when it's closed would've been appreciated though. It's not pleasant to have to worry about it.

The Surface

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The kickstand is a good idea

The Surface Pro 3's kickstand beats the iPad's Smart Cover, hands down. That wasn't true of the Surface 1 or 2, but with the 3 Microsoft finally nailed it by allowing it to swing 150 degrees.

Although the kickstand feels a bit wobbly at certain angles if you wiggle it back and forth, when it's resting on a table or your lap it feels far more stable than the magnetic Smart Cover does. For people who use their iPads almost exclusively in laptop-like modes with specialized cases, the Surface should feel pretty awesome. I know Microsoft's emphasis on the kickstand seems a bit silly, but it isn't.

The kickstand isn't just useful in productive poses either; lounging on the couch with it on your knees also feels great (again, better than an iPad). I spent over an hour whipping my RSS feeds into shape in total comfort.

Typing without the cover on your lap is fine ergonomically, but software holds me back

As someone who's totally used to the iPad's digital keyboard, I was never really interested in using the Surface with the keyboard attached on my lap (as advertised): I wanted to know if it was as good as my iPad on my lap. The answer is a frustrating 'almost'.

Although the Surface's kickstand allows it to get to the same position as an iPad with a Smart Cover, it begins to slide down to the lowest position when you type on it with an average amount of force. The lowest position is pretty good ergonomically anyway, but then you run into the second problem: the autocorrect and key spacing of the Windows keyboard (especially on a 12" screen) isn't as good as iOS. Maybe I'm missing something and I just need to give it more time, but that's my initial impression. I'm not sure I could reach my same 70+ wpm with it.

The display kicks butt, until you run into blurry windows

Many desktop apps and even a bunch of Windows' system dialogues look super blurry at the Surface's 2160x1440 resolution. Even very popular programs like Steam still haven't been optimized for high DPI screens on Windows, and that's unfortunate.

That said, everything else about the screen is great. Text is sharp, images look great, and colors look really nice even off-angle.

It's also big enough for two people to share when sitting side-by-side, which is pretty unique. As I read through articles on one side of the screen, my Dad could watch a YouTube video on the second half without a problem. Because of the smart way Microsoft has implemented multitouch, we could interact with our halves of the screen independently without messing up one another. It's pretty awesome, and although it's only 12" it feels bigger because it's closer to your hands and face than a laptop.

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The kickstand combined with the great screen make the Surface Pro 3 really stand out. I don't think Apple's rumored iPad Pro will include a kickstand, but I think a 12"+ screen is a safe bet. It's the perfect size for multitasking.

It's powerful enough graphically for Starcraft and Portal

Again, I didn't have a lot of time to play with the Surface, but I did quickly install Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm and the original Portal to see if they were playable. They were - especially at the lowest graphical settings, and Portal was fine even with almost everything at max.

The more annoying thing about using the Surface Pro 3 is that...

A second USB port would really come in handy.

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If you're using a wired mouse or a Logitech dongle (which I still think is dumb) and you want to attach a USB key, then you're out of luck. You'll either have to suffer through using the trackpad or tap your way through Windows Explorer (which isn't totally horrible) to transfer your files.

Maybe the smaller footprint of USB Type-C will make it easier for Microsoft to add a second USB port in the next Surface. I know the recent MacBook Air rumors have everyone discussing whether or not one USB port is enough, but for Windows users at least I think the answer is a pretty solid "No."

The Software

Internet Explorer is still terrible

I was shocked to discover that Chrome is a better browser for touch than desktop IE. For example, tapping on the address bar in Chrome automatically brings up the keyboard so you can type an address and hit Enter, just as you'd expect. IE doesn't do that. It puts the cursor in the address bar, but then expects you to open up the keyboard manually by tapping its icon in the taskbar. Totally dumb.

The Windows Store seems to be stagnant

A lot of digital ink has been typed about the Windows Phone store having a dearth of high-quality, regularly-updated apps. The same seems to be true for Windows, but fewer people have said anything about it.

From what I can tell, the Top 100 apps in the store are pretty much what the Top 100 list looked like back when Windows 8 first came out. Fruit Ninja, Facebook, Netflix, etc. The boring stuff you'd expect, except nothing from Google. Most notably: no YouTube.

If Windows 10 becomes as popular as Windows 7 maybe that'll change, but as of right now only a few apps are really making the case for the Modern UI - like Nextgen Reader, which is probably the best desktop RSS reader available.

Windows is lean, mean, fast and compatible

Although I now spend most of my time using OS X because of the design-oriented apps I use, I still have a lot of respect for Windows. It runs like butter on machines with only 4GB of RAM, it handles program crashes better than OS X, and Windows 8.1 installed on a decade-old computer can magically bring it back to a usable state.

Despite the Surface Pro 3's spec compromises, it still feels good to use, and it'll probably feel just as good in 3, 4, or maybe even more years. The world of Macs and OS X isn't like that at all, from what I can tell.

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Snapped multitasking is powerful, and a big differentiator

For the first few years after the iPad was released, we rationalized its lack of multi-window multitasking by asserting that, in a twisted kind of way, the iPad's insistence on doing one thing at a time was actually a good thing. It helped us focus solely on writing, reading, or consuming tweets, and helped stem information overload by slowing us down... or something.

That's mostly bull, and I think the iPad's slowed growth is at least partially due to the fact that our (larger) phones are increasingly better devices for single-app, consumption-oriented tasks. Writing, creating or otherwise "working" often requires jumping into and out of multiple apps either for reference or to do certain tasks, and iOS on a tablet isn't great at that. iOS 8's extensions are a good start, but they're not the solution to every problem; splitscreen multitasking is now a must-have for me in a tablet.

Yes, multi-window management via touch is a tricky thing to implement. Windows' swipe-from-the-top implementation works well enough, but it's admittedly obscured by its use of off-screen gestures. Apple's solution will likely be more understandable and easier to use, but one thing's for sure: I won't consider getting another iPad until it's implemented.

The rumored iPad Pro makes a lot of sense to me.

Final Thought

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Despite the dumb Microsoftian mistakes like a horrendous-smelling keyboard and nonsensical brightness controls, I really like the Surface Pro 3. If I were to buy a Windows PC right now this would be it, despite its seemingly-awkward form factor and uncertain future.

A lighter Surface Pro 4 with a Core M processor and fanless design would be great, of course, but the fundamentals of what I think laptops/next-gen tablets will eventually be like are already here in the Pro 3.

A beautiful touchscreen, a detachable keyboard, and the power & capability of a full-fledged PC in a single device. I'm a fan.

Playing with the web inspector

My very basic web knowledge came in handy recently. I was working on a group project, and my team wanted to include a few realistic-looking news headlines in our presentation.

Is anyone good with Photoshop?

We don't need Photoshop, we can just edit the website.

Like... hack it?

In Chrome:

This simple tip blew their minds, and I was known thenceforth the "computer wizard" of the group.

If I were to trace back all of my web-related work to a single point in time, I think it was the day I saw raw HTML code in Chrome's web inspector back in ~2010. Before then, I only kinda-sorta knew that the web was made of files and code - I didn't realize I could manipulate that code and tweak things right on my own machine. It was an awesome discovery, and very few people my age know it's even possible without "hacking".

I now impart this powerful knowledge unto you in good faith, knowing that you'll put it to good use. Spread the word about web wizardry, and explore all the secrets the inspector holds. If you can see it, you can change it - don't let any website tell you otherwise.

How to change your Twitter username

Here's how to change your Twitter handle from @OldName to @NewName without losing your followers, tweet history, or losing access to your old handle. From your followers' perspective, the change will be totally seamless, and it can be done in less than 10 minutes.

Here's a synopsis:

One thing to note: Because of the way Twitter handles conversations, changing your username won't retroactively change @mentions directed toward you from other people. This means that people you've conversed with will seemingly be talking to a ghost at @OldName instead of you at @NewName. Considering the "in-the-now" nature of Twitter this isn't really a showstopper, just a mild inconvenience that'll lessen over time.

In the example below, I'll be changing the old @Thinkertry handle for this site to the new @thinkerbit.

Step-by-step procedure

First, create a brand new Twitter account with a junk handle you don't care about. Something like "testing873626" is fine. Make the password strong, because eventually this will be the account that holds your @OldName for safe-keeping.

Here's what your account page will look like:

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Now sign out of that account (or open up another web browser) and sign into your @OldName Twitter account. Head to your account page, which will look like this:

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Replace the username in that first box with the one you want, and you'll see an "Available!" confirmation message.

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Click the big blue "Save changes" button at the bottom and you'll be asked to re-enter your password to confirm the change.

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Confirm your password, hit "Save changes" and a yellow banner will let you know that your settings have been saved. Your username is now officially changed.

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If you need to change your "real" name (First & Last), which in my case still says Thinkertry, head over to your main profile page and click the "Edit profile" button. Change your name from there and hit "Save changes". The Twitter account you care about is now perfectly set up.

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To maintain control of your @OldName, log back into the new Twitter account you made with the temporary handle and go to the account page. Change the username to your @OldName and it'll show as available. Old usernames are made available to the world the very instant someone changes their name, and as far as I can tell there's no time limit or name change limit either.

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Click "Save changes" just as before, and head over to your profile again to tweak the account's name and description. It may also be a good idea to make one tweet from this account directing people to the @NewName account. None of your followers will see this (because they're following @NewName now), but anyone who visits your old account URL will be more likely to notice the change and follow you in the right place.

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And that's it! Not as hard as I thought it would be, and my many single digits of followers are none the wiser.

Wallpaper

With exams right around the corner, today seemed like the perfect time to organize my wallpaper collection and create a new page to share them.

Each wallpaper is, in my opinion:

All of the ones included fit the bill, and I've been cycling through them for the past few years. I have ~100 others that I'll need to test a bit more before sharing, and I'll do that throughout 2015.

Every artist I could find is credited, and clicking a wallpaper will bring you to the artist's preferred download page (which is a pain, I know, but they get analytics data that way). If I couldn't find the original source/artist, you'll be directed to a locally-hosted copy instead.

Every wallpaper is at least 1920x1080, and two-thirds of them are at least 2560x1440. I may display the resolutions of locally-hosted ones in the future, but not for now.

As much as I'd like to create a nicely-organized .zip file with all of them included, I'm once again reluctant to willingly redistribute the work of others. I could make one with just the 'unknown' wallpapers included, but that seems a bit pointless.

And of course, I don't claim copyright on any of these images, and you should contact artists directly if you'd like to use them for commercial work.

If you know of (or are) the original source for any of these images, let me know and I'll update or remove their listings.