Last year I wrote a huge blog post about an offline laptop attempt. It kinda worked but I wasn’t really happy with the setups, need and goals.
So, it is back and I use it know, and I am very happy with it. This article explains my experience at solving my needs, I would appreciate not receiving advice or judgments here.
State of the need
Internet is infinite, my time is not
Having access to the Internet is a gift, I can access anything or anyone. But this comes with a few drawbacks. I can waste my time on anything, which is not particularly helpful. There are so many content that I only scratch things, knowing it will still be there when I need it, and jump to something else. The amount of data is impressive, one human can’t absorb that much, we have to deal with it.
I used to spend time of what I had, and now I just spend time on what exist. An example of this statement is that instead of reading books I own, I’m looking for which book I may want to read once, meanwhile no book are read.
Network socialization requires time
When I say “network socialization” this is so to avoid the easy “social network” saying. I do speak with people on IRC (in real time most of the time), I am helping people on reddit, I am reading and writing mail most of the time for OpenBSD development.
Don’t get me wrong, I am happy doing this, but I always keep an eye on each, trying to help people as soon as they ask a question, but this is really time consuming for me. I spend a lot of time jumping from one thing to another to keep myself updated on everything, and so I am too distracted to do anything.
In my first attempt of the offline laptop, I wanted to get my mails on it, but it was too painful to download everything and keep mails in sync. Sending emails would have required network too, it wouldn’t be an offline laptop anymore.
IT as a living and as a hobby
On top of this, I am working in IT so I spend my day doing things over the Internet and after work I spend my time on open source projects. I can not really disconnect from the Internet for both.
How I solved this
First step was to define « What do I like to do? », and I came with this short list:
- listening to music
- playing video games
- writing things
- learning things
One could say I don’t need a computer to read books, but I have lots of ebooks and PDF about lots of subjects. The key is to load everything you need on the computer, because it can be tempting to connect the device to the Internet because you need a bit of this or that.
I use a very old computer with a PowerPC CPU (1.3 GHz single core) with 512MB of ram. I like that old computer, and slower computer forbid doing multiple things at the same time and help me staying on focus.
For reading, I found zathura or comix (and its fork mcomix) very useful for reading huge PDF, the scrolling customization make those tools useful.
Listening to music
I buy my music as FLAC files and download it, this doesn’t require any internet access except at purchase time, so nothing special there. I use moc player which is easy to use, have a lot of feature and supports FLAC (on powerpc).
Emulation is a nice way to play lot of games on OpenBSD, on my old computer it’s up to game boy advance / super nes / megadrive which should allow me to do again lots of games I own.
We also have a lot of nice games in ports, but my computer is too slow to run them or they won’t work on powerpc.
Encyclopedia - Wikipedia
I’ve set up a local wikipedia replica like I explained in a previous article, so anytime I need to find about something, I can ask my local wikipedia. It’s always available. This is the best I found for a local encyclopedia, works well.
Since I started the offline computer experience, I started a diary. I never felt the need to do so but I wanted to give it a try. I have to admit summing up what I achieved in the day before going to bed is a satisfying experience and now I continue to update it.
You can use any text editor you want, there are special software with specific features, like rednotebook or lifeograph which supports embedded pictures or on the fly markdown rendering. But a text file and your favorite editor also do the job.
I also write some articles of this blog. It’s easy to do so as articles are text files in a git repository. When I finish and I need to publish, I get network and push changes to the connected computer which will do the publishing job.
I will go fast on this. My set up is an old Apple IBook G4 with a 1024x768 screen (I love this 4:3 ratio) running OpenBSD.
The system firewall pf is configured to prevent any incoming connections, and only allow TCP on the network to port 22, because when I need to copy files, I use ssh / sftp. The /home partition is encrypted using the softraid crypto device, full disk encryption is not supported on powerpc.
The experience is even more enjoyable with a warm cup of tea on hand.