About the author

My name is Solène Rapenne. I like learning and sharing experiences about IT stuff. Hobbies: '(BSD OpenBSD h+ Lisp cmdline gaming internet-stuff Crossbow). I love % and lambda characters. OpenBSD developer solene@.

Contact me: solene on Freenode, solene+www at dataswamp dot org or solene@bsd.network (mastodon)

Life with an offline laptop

Written by Solène, on 23 August 2019.
Tags: #openbsd #life

Hello, this is a long time I want to work on a special project using an offline device and work on it.

I started using computers before my parents had an internet access and I was enjoying it. Would it still be the case if I was using a laptop with no internet access?

When I think about an offline laptop, I immediately think I will miss IRC, mails, file synchronization, Mastodon and remote ssh to my servers. But do I really need it _all the time_?

As I started thinking about preparing an old laptop for the experiment, differents ideas with theirs pros and cons came to my mind.

Over the years, I produced digital data and I can not deny this. I don't need all of them but I still want some (some music, my texts, some of my programs). How would I synchronize data from the offline system to my main system (which has replicated backups and such).

At first I was thinking about using a serial line over the two laptops to synchronize files, but both laptop lacks serial ports and buying gears for that would cost too much for its purpose.

I ended thinking that using an IP network _is fine_, if I connect for a specific purpose. This extended a bit further because I also need to install packages, and using an usb memory stick from another computer to get packages and allow the offline system to use it is _tedious_ and ineffective (downloading packages and correct dependencies is a hard task on OpenBSD in the case you only want the files). I also came across a really specific problem, my offline device is an old Apple PowerPC laptop being big-endian and amd64 is little-endian, while this does not seem particularly a problem, OpenBSD filesystem is dependent of endianness, and I could not share an usb memory device using FFS because of this, alternatives are fat, ntfs or ext2 so it is a dead end.

Finally, using the super slow wireless network adapter from that offline laptop allows me to connect only when I need for a few file transfers. I am using the system firewall pf to limit access to outside.

In my pf.conf, I only have rules for DNS, NTP servers, my remote server, OpenBSD mirror for packages and my other laptop on the lan. I only enable wifi if I need to push an article to my blog or if I need to pull a bit more music from my laptop.

This is not entirely _offline_ then, because I can get access to the internet at any time, but it helps me keeping the device offline. There is no modern web browser on powerpc, I restricted packages to the minimum.

So far, when using this laptop, there is no other distraction than the stuff I do myself.

At the time I write this post, I only use xterm and tmux, with moc as a music player (the audio system of the iBook G4 is surprisingly good!), writing this text with ed and a 72 long char prompt in order to wrap words correctly manually (I already talked about that trick!).

As my laptop has a short battery life, roughly two hours, this also helps having "sessions" of a reasonable duration. (Yes, I can still plug the laptop somewhere).

I did not use this laptop a lot so far, I only started the experiment a few days ago, I will write about this sometimes.

I plan to work on my gopher space to add new content only available there :)