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03 May 2020

Compromise and Compromised (5/100)

Compromise

I have spent the best part of the past year and a half, possibly more, trying to change my entire digital life.

(ridding myself of all the trappings of surveillance capitalism and reliance on paid for, lock-in ransoming proprietary services) 1

I have changed my primary operating system completely.

(Windows 10 spyfest to MX Linux) 2

I have de-googled as much as I possibly could.

(mail, calendar and contacts to Posteo.de, cloud storage to owndrive, personal organiser to emacs+orgmode, syncing things to syncthing) 3

I have attempted to compartmentalise my entire web browsing life.

(firefox + uBlock Origin + HTTPSEverywhere + Decentraleyes + CookieAutodelete for PERSONAL sites, waterfox + some security for WORK sites, palemoon + uBlock Origin + ScriptBlock + Secret Agent + Decentraleyes + CookieExterminator + AdBlock Latitude for SOCIAL MEDIA sites) 4

I have made the change to a non-smart phone.

(Accepted the nokia “dumbphone” 216 into my life, joined a co-operative pay-as-you-go phone service. My smartphone turned into a Sim-less offline media device. Imagine listening to music and audiobooks, awaiting the vibration of the nokia in the other pocket, only to unplug headphones from media device to plug into the Nokia to be able to answer a call and perform the reverse when the call was over to resume media consumption)

Addendum

(After several months my patience wore very thin with both the sub-standard support by the co-operative PAYG and the panicked swapping of media device to candybar phone. So I have retired the “dumb phone” and now sport an FDroid FOSS app populated PAYG smart phone once again.) 5

I have digested as much information as I could about Privacy and Security and minimising my exposure of risk

(books, podcasts, sites, videos, extensive research, almost excessive cautious paranoia and inconvenience to preserve what I deem as sacred, choice and control of my own digital destiny) 6

My compromise is to interact digitally with this world through a shield of my own making.

(all the inconvenience of getting sites to work with Captcha’s, various javascript libraries, ad servers, social media intrusions and trackers - remembering exactly where to compartmentalise - what to use - what to do and what not to do. This is my compromise, to have some level of control in my digital future.)

Compromised

A Global Pandemic

(My nurtured principles have been tempered by the physical risks of this Global Pandemic. When weighed against my own mortality or the risk to others, my privacy and security concerns seem to pale in comparison. My mind resides on higher levels of existential risk and societal breakdown.)

Working from Home

(In order to function alongside my colleagues and in an environment of mainly Microsoft tech (Teams, Office 365, OneDrive, Sharepoint), remote management and Zoom meetings - I have had to open my privacy borders, break down some of the barriers I spent many hours setting up. I have had to choke down technology I totally disagree with on an ethical level, in order to participate in work, from within the confines of my own home, using my tech, using my connection. The Inside. Turned out.)

I am thoroughly Compromised.

(all of my FOSS alternatives come to naught when dealing with work, my security, my privacy, my ethics, are totally meaningless when I have to operate in some professional capacity within the current online situation. An emergency across the globe. Through fiscal necessity, the opening up of the inner sanctum of a protected digital life. When will it stop? How many blatant incursions will be legislated through as necessary and will never be revoked?)

#100DaysToOffload

This post is my Day 5 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. 7

Also Kev Quirk has enabled a blogroll for everyone who is taking part in the challenge. 8

Amolith has enabled an RSS feed 9 of all the sites on the blogroll, if that’s how you like to read your content. Very useful and very much appreciated.

Footnotes:

Tags: Muse
01 May 2020

The dystopian cyberpunk future I always wanted (4/100)

2020

It was only a few shorts months ago that I was proclaiming 2020 as the Cyberpunk future I’d always dreamt about since I was a teen in the early ‘80s. A futuristic milestone notched up on the electrified twirling baton of time. Little did I know it would get quite so dystopian and quite so bleak where human contact becomes the vector by which to spread my own demise. I have no doubt the current situation will shake it all up and shape our dystopia for years to come. Perhaps a global pandemic is the catalyst for change that our society seemed to be hankering for the past few years?

I’d kind of hoped I’d have had my breather and cyberdreads sorted out by now.

The future past

I set out to describe intimately why I love cyberpunk.

I’m not sure I’m going to do a very good job of it.

Internally, it’s a feeling for me. It’s a look. It’s an attitude. It’s a fantasy. But one grounded in near future tech realism and one of overwhelming corporate dominance, with a hint of sly tech wrangling and enhancing the human condition with crafted bio-mechanics and digital exocortex functioning.

Humanity++

But with an edge, a fight, a struggle - against the oppressors.

Taking from them, ground level engineering and integration, enhancing and using it against them. Self improvement and payback through bionics and interfacing. Hacking the planet.

Young and impressionable, these films had way more of an effect on me than my parents would have liked. (I’m going to list films now, formative and genre expanding throughout the years)

  • Tron
  • Blade Runner
  • Terminator
  • Robocop
  • Running Man
  • Hardware
  • Total Recall
  • The Lawnmower Man
  • Hackers
  • Johnny Mnemonic
  • Judge Dredd/Dredd
  • Strange Days
  • Fifth Element
  • eXistenZ
  • The Matrix
  • Avalon
  • Minority Report
  • A Scanner Darkly
  • Repo Men
  • Preist
  • Elysium
  • Ex-Machina
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Upgrade
  • Black Mirror
  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Altered Carbon

I have an armful of Anime too:

  • Bubblegum Crisis
  • Akira
  • Dominion: Tank Police
  • Appleseed
  • Cyber City Oedo 808
  • Macross Plus
  • Armitage III
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Serial Experiments Lain
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • Renaissance
  • Roujin Z
  • Vexille

And games

  • Shadowrun
  • Syndicate
  • Rise of the Robots
  • System Shock
  • Deus Ex
  • .hack
  • Anarchy Online
  • Neocron
  • Enter the Matrix
  • The Matrix Online
  • E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy
  • Cyber Knights
  • Bionic Dues
  • Mars: War Logs
  • The Technomancer
  • Remember Me
  • Echo
  • Transistor
  • Watch Dogs
  • Cosmic Star Heroine
  • Dex
  • Technobabylon
  • Satellite Reign
  • Invisible Inc
  • All Walls Must Fall
  • Neon Chrome
  • System Crash
  • There Came an Echo
  • Hacknet
  • Hackmud
  • Neofeud
  • Observer
  • Ruiner
  • Astral Chain
  • (Cyberpunk 2077)

I’ve bound to have missed out a lot. But these media sources have all played their part in cementing my love for cyberpunk.

I’m leaving out books and music, although I could write a book about those and have a cool darkwave soundtrack for the audiobook.

What is this Cyberpunk thing?

Cyberpunk for me, is essentially fantasy writ gritty with its balls out and its heart replaced with a beating machine.

My hopes and dreams digitised and gone viral.

Humanity built large with steel and surgical chrome.

Mind function accelerated and expanded with hijacked processing power and elusive connectivity.

It is a partly shaved head, exposed enhancements, torn tight functional clothing, chemical enhancments, neon glows, shimmering custom tattoos and the technical know-how to escape the cage that surrounds us all.

It is fighting back, from the gutter, using their technical advancements against them. Whoever ‘they’ are, at the moment, for the right price, monetarily or ethically. It’s our time to RISE! 1

I’ve probably failed to convey exactly what Cyberpunk is. But some of the above succinctly reminds me of what it is.

It’s a feeling, I have, that I am very fond of.

#100DaysToOffload 2

This post is my Day 4 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge.

Also Kev Quirk has enabled a blogroll for everyone who is taking part in the challenge. 3

Amolith has enabled an RSS feed 4 of all the sites on the blogroll, if that’s how you like to read your content. Very useful and very much appreciated.

For today’s Mastodon recommendation to follow, I trade some nyen with a Mr Johnson I know to transfer this important com-link ID for a Cyberpunk appreciation movement known as #WeAreNameless 5

Footnotes:

Tags: Muse
29 Apr 2020

Life in Text (3/100)

The road to capture Life

I’ve been trying to tame my chaotic digital life for quite some time much of it tied into novel ideas turned into costly dot coms, todoist, trello, evernote etc.

The one thing they all had in common was that my data was in their systems and it gave them some sort of hold over it. Some bargaining power to use against me, should I ever try to stop paying for their services.

None of this gave me a sense of security as I was laboriously entering my entire life into disparate online pay-walled repositories.

They offered me convenience. They offered me mobile functionality. But I couldn’t easily tie them all together. In a single simple to use interface and get at the data immediately. I had to wrangle with various user interfaces, various hard coded functions that they deemed useful, rather than have any flexibility in the way I said was useful to me.

My most precious information was scattered across the deserts of the Internet and I could never seem to update it enough, or make it ultra useful to me.

As services change their functionality, often streamlining once more extensive features, to appeal to a more mass market, I would lose keys paths to accessing the data. My data. I hit a wall with Evernote, in that I no longer wanted my over zealous web capturing to be horded away in various interface quagmires. So I found an open source alternative to Evernote and started the exodus. That alternative was Joplin. 1

Joplin was a good solution to my problem, but the way it stored its data in a lot of very small markdown files made syncing it very slow.

Fortuitiously I stumbled upon a methodology known as org-mode introduced in a GoogleTech Talk by Carsten Dominik (2008). 2

I watched this video all the way through and was amazed at what I was witnessing. A plain text file, structured to afford almost magical functionality when viewed in org-mode in Emacs.

It was a dream come true.

I immediately set out to learn how to use this Emacs editor.

The structure of plain text

Emacs 3

Emacs was a culture shock to begin with. I was used to the more modern text editors. Or should I say more traditionally CUA compliant editors. I’d travelled a long journey through text editors over the years, from Boxer/TKO, HomeSite, EditPlus, Notepad++, SublimeText, Atom, EmEditor to name a few. Some were more customisable than others, but none were truly extensible to what I was seeing inside of Emacs. And it scared the hell out of me. I was once again lost in a world of personal configuration (when you don’t know what is possible), lisp, melpa archives and using org-babel and an org file to contain Emacs configuration itself! In my mind, true wizardry!

I took it steady, and my baby steps into learning what org-mode could do, meant I learnt just enough to get by and still marvel at the org-mode.

Why Emacs? “Editor MACroS”

  • Extensible Text Editor
  • Functionality extended by many community packages
  • Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) developed by Gnu Foundation
  • Actively supported and developed since 1976*

Org-mode 4

This powerful text markup allows me to capture everything in structures that are meaningful to me, and in a format that is still human readable and easily converted into other output formats. The collapsing outlining heirarchy is perfect for structuring all sorts of data. I cannot stress just how much org-mode has affected my digital life, it has given me a textual palette with which to paint my most important data into text files with real value under my control.

I am writing this static blog post using org-static-blog. 5

I even wrote a presentation on org-mode and used Emacs and org-present 6 to give a talk with it.

Emacs/Org-mode Resources

The more we capture the more we know.

Org-mode becomes your “exo-cortex”.

“Organise your life in plain text”

Some of the more helpful resources I found invaluable in my journey:

  • Karl Voit’s How to get started using Org-mode 7
  • Josh Rollin’s How to capture data with Org-mode - Capture Templates 8
  • Gregor Riegler’s “This is not an org-mode tutorial” article describes exactly the magic of org-mode 9
  • Harry Schwartz demos some org-mode features 10
  • Sacha Chua’s tips for learning org-mode 11
  • Bernt Hansen’s deep dive into what org-mode can do 12
  • Worg extensive guides and tutorials on Org-mode 13

#100DaysToOffload 14

This post is my Day 3 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge.

Also Kev Quirk has enabled a blogroll for everyone who is taking part in the challenge. 15

And, Amolith from secluded.site 16 has enabled an RSS feed of all the sites on the blogroll, if that’s how you like to read your content. Very useful and very much appreciated.

For today’s Mastodon recommendation to follow, I give you @Amolith 17

Footnotes:

Tags: Muse
28 Apr 2020

Stumbled into Linux (2/100)

A fortuitous purchase, a fumbled away team expedition

In the heady days of November 2008, on a PSX (the original “original” name for the first Playstation console) gaming mailing list, a fellow gamer posted a link to a coupon for a cheap Dell Inspiron Mini netbook with the accompanying description “8gb solid state with ubuntu for 99 quid”.

I had very little exposure to the Linux world at this point, I was a Windows man. As a boy I was a Commodore Vic-20 and 64 enthusiast. But my adult IT career had kept me locked, ignorant, into the Windows ecosystem.

Now this ‘coupon’ was apparently for a netbook at that ridiculously cheap price when you paid full price on an XPS desktop PC. However, this purchasing conditional hadn’t been hard baked into the site yet and so you could make purchase of the netbook WITHOUT purchasing the very expensive accompanying desktop PC.

The actual full retail price for the netbook was around £258.

I managed to secure the purchase for the netbook at the discount price and then promptly reported to the others on the mailing list that “for £99 I’d suffer Ubuntu for an MMO info web surfing machine.. I’ll have to see if it pans out…”

The arrogance of it all.

It was a Dell Mini 9. 1

It was Ubuntu 8 (Hardy Heron).

I had no idea what I was doing.

And I remember staring at Synaptic all befuddled.

I run the system update routine and it ate up most of my SSD space.

I had major issues getting it to connect to my Wifi at the time.

I quite clearly wasn’t ready for this.

My baby steps set me off on a path towards Linux, but I wasn’t ready to embrace what there was and especially not on this hardware. Technically I was a fish out of water. Uncomfortable. Gasping for air and something I could hold onto and understand without having to dig up my technical foundations and start again.

I’m ashamed to say it now, but I spent more time wrestling Windows XP onto a USB key to install it on this Dell Mini than I did exploring the new alien landscapes of Linux world.

Exploring the Linux multi-verse

My inauguration into the world of Linux come later, when the “fear of the unknown” of Ubuntu 8 had left me and the intoxicating curiosity of the linux distro multi-verse had me hooked. I explored the new frontier with wanton abandon, hopping from distro planet to distro planet like a certain starship captain, boldly going.

OpenSUSE had me under it’s spell for a while.

Linux Mint nurtured me with stability for quite some time.

On old hardware the likes of Bodhi Linux made things fresh again.

Then I found my most reliable and comfortable distro, and I’m writing this, in Emacs, using Org-mode, publishing to my blog on my trusty MX Linux. All the functionality and the speed.

Constant Exploration

My interest in Linux has blossomed over the years into a real passion, more than just the technical side to it, a passion for taking control of my own computing. Understanding, building, configuring the tools to enable me to ENJOY my computing again.

The more you explore, the deeper and more interesting the caverns become.

You find other explorers out there, who are also willing to share their knowledge and they light the darkest most mysterious caverns for you.

From a simple mispriced purchase, all those years ago, to a changed life. This is Linux.

Linux Rocks!

For today’s recommendation to follow: @MXLinux 2

This is my Day 2 of #100DaysToOffload

Footnotes:

Tags: Muse
26 Apr 2020

Another federated inspiration (1/100)

Mastodon 1

Mastodon is often a valuable source of interest and inspiration. I am currently very happy, nuzzled into the Linuxrocks.online 2 instance and I follow a number of active folks there and across other instances, usually centered around topics that have become dear to me. Topics like:

  1. Linux
  2. Free and Open Source SOftware (FOSS)
  3. Privacy
  4. Security
  5. Console and PC Gaming
  6. Roguelikes
  7. Cyberpunk games and culture
  8. Roleplaying games

I have supported interest-based communities on the Internet since I took my first baby steps online back in the late early 90’s. Currently, I curate news items for two fairly niche gaming genre’s namely, (traditional) roguelikes and computer based wargaming.

(Traditional) Roguelikes 3

I run a “human curated” twitter feed of (traditional) roguelike and roguelike developer news (both established and aspiring devs). My ethical issues with privacy on that platform are constantly being challenged. Running any sort of privacy related tools to safeguard your data, causes a deluge of twitter specific checks and alerts and I’m not sure how long I can keep it up. At some point, I can imagine, protecting your privacy and being on the Twitter platform may become mutually exclusive. My main problem being that the popularity of Twitter means the majority of roguelike news and roguelike developers are present and are very unlikely to make a move to Mastodon.

Computer based wargaming 4

I also run a moderated sub-reddit for computer based wargames, where my monitored RSS feeds of niche news sites and youtube channels supply a healthy dose of curated wargaming news, guides and “let’s plays” every day - as well as providing a home for a growing community of computer based wargaming enthusiasts to discuss these games. The Reddit platform, like Twitter, is also likely to infringe privacy and Reddit has a really bad reputation for some of it’s questionable sub-reddit content. It is a problem for me, because I forged these small communities when my knowledge and appreciation for privacy concerns was limited. Moving small niche communities to other platforms is almost a guarentee that they will fragment and die.

SFG 5

My blog site has evolved over the years from a niche enthusiast blog site, where I documented After Action Reports (AAR) of my computer wargaming exploits (basically written accounts of play with accompanying screenshots explaining situations and decisions made) and wrote about other gaming pursuits and opinion pieces.

Finally after my “liberation” from the shackles of web content management systems and javascript heavy interfaces, I decided to whittle my blog down to a place where plain and simple information could be presented, without paying any privacy or security cost to myself, the users, or access to the information. This liberation was inspired by a number of key people I’d followed on Mastodon from my early days there. Mastodon has been a great place to be introduced to new ideas and has helped me forge a better way to work and comport myself online.

So here I am, inspired yet again, by a person I follow on Mastodon, to participate in a call to action, to jump start my blog posting again, alongside many others.

Kev Quirk 6 and #100daystooffload 7

Kev Quirk come up with the idea for #100daystooffload - encouraging a community of others to post their musings in a 100 day window, relaxed, with no pressure and no expectations. As Kev says… “Just. Write.”

Well this post constitutes my 1 of 100.

And my recommendation on this day is to follow Kev on Mastodon via the Fosstodon instance 8

Footnotes:

Tags: Muse
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