Jamie's Notes

Currently browsing internet ⤵

The tools I use

One of my favourite features of Lifehacker is their ‘How I Work’ series of interviews, where they ask people to explain the tools and strategies they use to get shit done.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the software that I use and how I use it – definitely more time than is productive, and I find it hard to settle on a system without falling into the productivity porn trap – but nevertheless I’ve managed to put together a list of the software and services that seem to stick around on my devices. All of this stuff works really well, so I’ve got no good reason to spend any more hours looking for a better text editor.

Here it is:

Hardware / OS

  • Microsoft Surface 3 / Ubuntu
  • BlackBerry KeyOne
  • iPad Mini 4

Server Stack

  • Mailcow provides the family with email, calendars, tasks and contact sync across devices. It works brilliantly.
  • Nextcloud provides secure file synchronization between devices.
  • Gogs is a self hosted GIT server, similar to Github. I use it to keep track of bits of code, and even bits of prose.
  • A Mastodon instance provides my social media fix.

All of the above are hosted on Hetzner servers and cost less than a tenner a month to run.

Internet & Communication Tools

  • Browser: Firefox
  • Instant Messenger: Matrix
  • Email: Evolution (desktop) / Mail (iOS)
  • IRC: Hexchat
  • Text Editor: Sublime Text

Applications of Note

  • I use YNAB to manage my daily finances. Four years of use has transformed my understanding of my spending habits, even though I haven’t fully bought in to all of the principles.
  • NewsBlur helps me to keep up to date with the latest posts from sites that I’m interested in. RSS is most definitely, and defiantly, NOT dead.
  • I manage all of my passwords with Bitwarden.
  • Audible and Pocket Casts make my commutes tolerable.
  • Calibre makes managing my ebook collection a breeze.

That’s my list. What’s yours?

Delete Facebook

Facebook is a monster of our own creation. We carried on feeding it our deepest secrets until it became one of the most powerful and valuable companies in the world, headed by a guy that once called his users ‘dumb fucks’.

The latest revelations are shocking, but I doubt they will cause it any long term damage, people have short memories, most people just don’t care, and no one will leave until all the other people they know do too. Still, this is the first time that I can recall people seriously talking about the end of Facebook. Some have asked what should replace Facebook if it does fall, as if fleeing the platform would leave some gaping hole in our lives that must be filled or that a new platform would solve the problems of the old. The truth is that there is no hole, because Facebook solves a problem that doesn’t exist. The Internet worked just fine before it arrived, and it will work just fine when it dies.

If you really must have a platform, choose one that’s federated. Federated networks use open protocols to communicate with distributed nodes. Admittedly this sounds ridiculously complicated (and that’s also a barrier to adaption), but this network structure means that no single entity has control of all the data. Projects like Mastodon are doing great work in getting federated social networks to a state ready for wider use.

Facebook has promised that it will safeguard the information that it holds and that nothing like this will ever happen again, but none of their lip flapping solves the basic problem: their sole purpose is to maximise the profit that they can make from the information that we give it. The only way to fix Facebook is to tell them to do one. Start working on a blog. Dust off your email. Call a friend or send them a text. The world without Facebook really isn’t that bad.

Replacing Goodreads

Goodreads is a social book cataloging site. At its most basic level it allows users to maintain a virtual library of the books they read. Users can rate and review books & participate in discussion groups. It was founded in 2007 and has around fifty million users.

I’ve been using Goodreads over the past seven years to keep a record of the books that I read. Over the past year I have been trying to reduce my Internet footprint; closing my accounts on all of the major social networks and in general just trying to keep as much of my data under my control as possible. Goodreads has been selected as the latest one to be led to the guillotine. I thought about this one a lot; it’s pretty harmless, doesn’t suck up mountains of time and I’ve had the account for years. It was a bigger wrench than closing my Facebook or Twitter accounts.

I do value the data that I’ve given to Goodreads, and I want to carry on maintaining it once the account is closed. Jamie Todd Rubin has created some crazy clever python scripts to parse and present data from a list of books held in a markdown file. I exported my data from Goodreads, bodged it into markdown format and used my very limited python knowledge to adjust his scripts so that I can track progress towards my annual goal.

The scripts are available from Jamie’s github repository. Take a look.

Here’s some sample output:

Year                                                    Books Pages
2017 ###############################+#+########           42  19732
2016 #####@#@#@########@####+#@####@#######@@#####        45  20584
2015 ##################################                   34  14494
2014 ##########################################           42  18537
Total                                                    163  73347

Statistical Summary
===================

Reading goal for 2017: 50
Years: 4
Books: 163

- Paper (+): 3
- Ebook (#): 152
- Audio (@): 8

Avg books/year: 40
Avg pages/year: 18336
Avg pages/book: 449

So, one more social network scrubbed off my list, I managed to export my data, and I’ve got a nerdy way to keep it up to date going forward. I’ll chalk that one up as a win.

Freecycle

You might have heard of Freecycle. There has been a fair amount of coverage in the national press in the past few years and the movement is growing phenomenally; currently boasting nearly six and a half million members across the globe.

Freecycle is a global community which aims to reduce the pressure on landfills by promoting the distribution of unused goods through the internet. It is, in effect, a sort of internet based ‘swap-shop’. The community is broken down into local subgroups, each of which has a website through which its members can post items they would like to offer, or ones that they need. Freecycle is a free service and all of the goods offered through it are also offered for free. In fact, that seems to be about the only rule – other than they you don’t head straight over to Ebay with your gifted items. The mods are fairly strict on this, and I believe that they monitor ebay and take swift action against members that abuse the service.

The type of thing on offer varies widely. I logged on today and saw the following on offer:

UVPC door and door frame, 1x Sky dish, 2x Box of envelopes, 4 pairs of jeans, various plastic boxes (the woman posted again to say that she had received over 30 requests for these) as well as an electric breast pump.

White goods, such as fridges and cookers are a common occurrence – as are beds, sofas and other things that would be perfect for someone setting up their first home.

The rate at which all of these items are traded is staggering, which means that you have to log on fairly regularly to catch the true bargains – however one mans rubbish is another mans treasure – there is always something to be had.

What impresses me most about the service is the people that use it. In the age of ebay, money can be had for almost any old tat but Freecycle relies on people giving things away with no financial reward, fairly unique in a money obsessed culture, especially in light of the much talked about credit crunch. Seems like there really is pleasure in giving, eh?

Freecycle truly shows how the internet can bring communities together. Now i’m going to have a look round the house to see what unused stuff I can get rid of.

The national Freecycle website can be found at http://www.freecycle.org, which has links to the various subgroups around the country. To dive straight into the Hull community, head to http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/hullfreecycle/ with your Yahoo ID.