A few days ago, as someone working remotely since 3 years I published some tips to help new remote workers to feel more confident into their new workplace: home
I’ve been told I should publish it on my blog so it’s easier to share the information, so here it is.
dedicate some space to your work area, if you use a laptop try to dedicate a table corner for it, so you don’t have to remove your “work station” all the time
keep track of the time, remember to drink and stand up / walk every hour, you can set an alarm every hour to remember or use software like http://www.workrave.org/ or https://github.com/hovancik/stretchly which are very useful. If you are alone at home, you may lose track of time so this is important.
don’t forget to keep your phone at hand if you use it for communication with colleagues. Think that they may only know your phone number, so it’s their only way to reach you
keep some routine for lunch, you should eat correctly and take the time to do so, avoid eating in front of the computer
don’t work too much after work hours, do like at your workplace, leave work when you feel it’s time to and shutdown everything related to work, it’s a common trap to want to do more and keep an eye on mails, don’t fall into it.
depending on your social skills, work field and colleagues, speak with others (phone, text whatever), it’s important to keep social links.
Here are some others tips from Jason Robinson
after work, distance yourself from the work time by taking a short walk outside, cooking, doing laundry, or anything that gets you away from the work area and cuts the flow.
take at least one walk outside if possible during the day time to get fresh air.
get a desk that can be adjusted for both standing and sitting.
I hope those advices will help you going through the crisis, take care of yourselves.
This is a little story that happened a few days ago, it explains well how I usually get involved into ports in OpenBSD.
1 - Lurking into ports/graphics/
At first, I was looking in various ports there are in the graphics category, searching for an image editor that would run correctly on my offline laptop. Grafx2 is laggy when using the zoom mode and GIMP won’t run, so I just open ports randomly to read their pkg/DESCR file.
This way, I often find gems I reuse later, sometimes I have less luck and I only tried 20 ports which are useless to me. It happens I find issues in ports looking randomly like this…
2 - Find the port « comix »
Then, the second or third port I look at is « comix », here is the DESCR file.
Comix is a user-friendly, customizable image viewer. It is specifically designed to handle comic books, but also serves as a generic viewer. It reads images in ZIP, RAR or tar archives (also gzip or bzip2 compressed) as well as plain image files.
That looked awesome, I have lot of books as PDF I want to read but it’s not convenient in a “normal” PDF reader, so maybe comix would help!
3 - Using comix
Once comix was compiled (a mix of python and gtk), I start it and I get errors opening PDFs… I start it again from console, and in the output I get the explanation that PDF files are not usable in comix.
Then I read about the CBZ or CBT files, they are archives (zip or tar) containing pictures, definitely not what a PDF is.
4 - mcomix > comix
After a few searches on the Internet, I find that comix last release is from 2009 and it never supported PDF, so nothing wrong here, but I also found comix had a fork named mcomix.
mcomix forked a long time ago from comix to fix issues and add support for new features (like PDF support), while last release is from 2016, it works and still receive commits (last is from late 2019). I’m going for using comix!
5 - Installing mcomix from ports
Best way to install a program on OpenBSD is to make a port, so it’s correctly packaged, can be deinstalled and submit to ports@ mailing list later.
I did copy comix folder into mcomix, use a brain dead sed command to replace all occurrence of comix by mcomix, and it mostly worked! I won’t explain little details, but I got mcomix to work within a few minutes and I was quite happy! Fun fact is that comix port Makefile was mentioning mcomix as a suggestion for upgrade.
6 - Enjoying a CBR reader
With mcomix installed, I was able to read some PDF, it was a good experience and I was pretty happy with it. I’ve spent a few hours reading, a few moments after mcomix was installed.
7 - mcomix works but not all the time
After reading 2 longs PDFs, I got issues with the third, some pages were not rendered and not displayed. After digging this issue a bit, I found about mcomix internals. Reading PDF is done by rendering every page of the PDF using mutool binary from mupdf software, this is quite CPU intensive, and for some reason in mcomix the command execution fails while I can do the exact same command a hundred time with no failure. Worse, the issue is not reproducible in mcomix, sometimes some pages will fail to be rendered, sometimes not!
8 - Time to debug some python
I really want to read those PDF so I take my favorite editor and start debugging some python, adding more debug output (mcomix has a -W parameter to enable debug output, which is very nice), to try to understand why it fails at getting output of a working command.
Sadly, my python foo is too low and I wasn’t able to pinpoint the issue. I just found it fail, sometimes, but I wasn’t able to understand why.
9 - mcomix on PowerPC
While mcomix is clunky with PDF, I wanted to check if it was working on PowerPC, it took some times to get all the dependencies installed on my old computer but finally I got mcomix displayed on the screen… and dying on PDF loading! Crash seems related to GTK and I don’t want to touch that, nobody will want to patch GTK for that anyway so I’ve lost hope there.
10 - Looking for alternative
Once I knew about mcomix, I was able to search the Internet for alternatives of it and also CBR readers. A program named zathura seems well known here and we have it in the OpenBSD ports tree.
Weird thing is that it comes with two different PDF plugins, one named mupdf and the other one poppler. I did try quickly on my amd64 machine and zathura was working.
11 - Zathura on PowerPC
As Zathura was working nice on my main computer, I installed it on the PowerPC, first with the poppler plugin, I was able to view PDF, but installing this plugin did pull so many packages dependencies it was a bit sad. I deinstalled the poppler PDF plugin and installed mupdf plugin.
I opened a PDF and… error. I tried again but starting zathura from the terminal, and I got the message that PDF is not a supported format, with a lot of lines related to mupdf.so file not being usable. The mupdf plugin work on amd64 but is not usable on powerpc, this is a bug I need to report, I don’t understand why this issue happens but it’s here.
12 - Back to square one
It seems that reading PDF is a mess, so why couldn’t I convert the PDF to CBT files and then use any CBT reader out there and not having to deal with that PDF madness!!
13 - Use big calibre for the job
I have found on the Internet that Calibre is the most used tool to convert a PDF into CBT files (or into something else but I don’t really care here). I installed calibre, which is not lightweight, started it and wanted to change the default library path, the software did hang when it displayed the file dialog. This won’t stop me, I restart calibre and keep the default path, I click on « Add a book » and then it hang again on file dialog. I did report this issue on ports@ mailing list, but it didn’t solve the issue and this mean calibre is not usable.
14 - Using the command line
After all, CBT files are images in a tar file, it should be easy to reproduce the mcomix process involving mutool to render pictures and make a tar of that.
I found two ways to proceed, one is extremely fast but may not make pages in the correct order, the second requires CPU time.
Making CBT files - easiest process
The first way is super easy, it requires mutool (from mupdf package) and it will extract the pictures from the PDF, given it’s not a vector PDF, not sure what would happen on those. The issue is that in the PDF, the embedded pictures have a name (which is a number from the few examples I found), and it’s not necessarily in the correct order. I guess this depend how the PDF is made.
$ mutool extract The_PDF_file.pdf $ tar cvf The_PDF_file.tar *jpg
That’s all you need to have your CBT file. In my PDF there was jpg files in it, but it may be png in others, I’m not sure.
Making CBT files - safest process (slow)
The other way of making pictures out of the PDF is the one used in mcomix, call mutool for rendering each page as a PNG file using width/height/DPI you want. That’s the tricky part, you may not want to produce pictures with larger resolution than the original pictures (and mutool won’t automatically help you for this) because you won’t get any benefit. This is the same for the DPI. I think this could be done automatically using a correct script checking each PDF page resolution and using mutool to render the page with the exact same resolution.
As a rule of thumb, it seems that rendering using the same width as your screen is enough to produce picture of the correct size. If you use large values, it’s not really an issue, but it will create bigger files and take more time for rendering.
$ mutool draw -w 1920 -o page%d.png The_PDF_file.pdf $ tar cvf The_PDF_file.tar page*.png
You will get PNG files for each page, correctly numbered, with a width of 1920 pixels. Note that instead of tar, you can use zip to create a zip file.
15 - Finally reading books again
After all this LONG process, I was finally able to read my PDF with any CBR reader out there (even on phone), and once the process is done, it uses no cpu for viewing files at the opposite of mcomix rendering all the pages when you open a file.
I have to use zathura on PowerPC, even if I like it less due to the continuous pages display (can’t be turned off), but mcomix definitely work great when not dealing with PDF. I’m still unsure it’s worth committing mcomix to the ports tree if it fails randomly on random pages with PDF.
16 - Being an open source activist is exhausting
All I wanted was to read a PDF book with a warm cup of tea at hand. It ended into learning new things, debugging code, making ports, submitting bugs and writing a story about all of this.
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 keeping focused.
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 Powerbook G4 with a 1024x768 screen (I love that 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.
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 :)