December 22, 2020

A roadmap to reclaiming my attention and time

Last edited in July 2023

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: what is this about?
  • Programmes I use
  • Journal: from 2017 to present

Introduction: what is this about?

This is a page to document my move to quit using proprietary software, SaaS, the cloud”, social media and other similar services.

The privacy-friendly” fallacy.

When I started this in 2017, I was seeking to replace each proprietary software (or SaaS or cloud”) with a privacy-friendly” alternative. However, after a while, I realised that privacy-friendly” software are often similar to proprietary software, in essence. For example, Duckduckgo is even proprietary, like Google; a lot of privacy-friendly” tools also are. Other privacy-friendly” run on remote servers, etc. All a trap.

Doing things locally without the internet.

So after my privacy-friendly” stint, I moved onto seeking Free Software alternatives and run these locally, on my computer. No SaaS, no cloud. I try to do all my computing tasks locally, i.e. on a machine I control, even some silly and simple one such as checking time in another time zone — instead of constantly having to rely on the search engine” and the internet.

These days I manage to do my work offline. My current laptop does not have a WiFi card. I connect to the internet via an Ethernet cable when I need to download or send emails, push to repositories, download files. Then I go back and work offline. I have everything I need locally. I know not everyone can do this.

The (non-copyleft) Free Software trap.

On step further to this (that is where I am at today, as of April 2023) is to seek copyleft-licensed software, rather than just Free Software”.

The reason I do so is that a software licensed under a permissive (non-copyleft) licence, such as the MIT Licence, can end up proprietary (some of the readers will find this obvious). As one blogger puts it: developers writing software under non-copyleft licences are writing software that will end up proprietary”. I wonder: if one seeks to write Free Software, why not opt for a copyleft licence, knowing that non-copyleft software can end up proprietary? I might be missing something, but, the only reason I see for a programmer to do so is that one wants to attract users thinking they are (safely) using Free Software, and then, one day, making the software proprietary. That is a genuine question; please email me if you have something in mind. I might be missing something.

There is no alternatives.

Also, first, when I started, I was thinking in terms of substitutes e.g. “what tool can I use to replace Google Alert or Signal?”, but as I moved further towards using copyleft-licensed software and running programmes locally, the way I use my computer evolved away from habits which had been shaped by (the motivations of proprietary) software companies.

I found that using copyleft-licensed programmes locally, often written by agents first motivated by their own needs, has lead me to rethink how I use technologies. Thus, the mindset of seeking alternatives” has become vain. Sharing the plain list of programmes I use makes more sense. That said, if you want see a path of my journey of letting go of proprietary software and the likes, go to the section of that post titled Journal, below.

Also: I put together a guide to help others (who writes) to regain agency over personal computing: A guide to simple and stupid usage of computers for writers (anyone who writes really) (published under a BY-NC-SA licence).

About me.

As far as I can remember: I had my first encounter with the internet in the early 2000s; with Instant Messaging and peer-to-peer networks. Back then, I owned a computer running with Windows, for a couple of years or so, then nothing until I purchased a MacBook in 2010. I got my first smartphone in 2015, the year I started to work in the software industry.

In 2019 I quit working for the development of proprietary software.

In 2020 I switched back to a dumb phone.

In 2021 I traded my MacBook for a second-hand laptop running the operating system Trisquel GNU/Linux.

I now do research, mostly drawing from philosophical works, to try to figure out concepts, or a framework, to critique digital technologies; to critique’ meaning to sieve through to improve how we use technologies (not to blame or reject). I plan to publish a book.

Programmes and utilities I use

To give the reader an idea of where I am at in my move away from proprietary software, SaaS and cloud”, it is best to list the programmes I now use (mostly from the command line):

  • less to view files
  • vim as a text editor
  • git as a file versioning system and to track changes, modifications et cetera
  • pandoc, mainly to convert files from Markdown to pdf
  • LaTex to produce the layout of letters or invoices I write in plain text
  • find to search for files or directories, and batch delete.
  • grep to search for text through text files
  • df to display amount of disk space available
  • du to find out what takes up space on my drive
  • openvpn to connect to the server I use to vpn
  • atril to view pdf
  • wc to count words in vim or other text files
  • history to copy commands from the shell history to the prompt, to the clipboard or to a file
  • backintime to backup my home directory
  • date to check the time of time zones or to show (my) local time given a date and time of a different time zone
  • keepassxc to store passwords
  • abrowser to read html files (and browser the www)
  • tor
  • mutt, a Mail User Agent, to read emails locally and offline
  • mbsync to download emails locally
  • msmtp to send emails from mutt or from the command line
  • msmtp-queue to queue emails to be sent later when I am online
  • abook as an address book
  • cvlc or nvlc to watch videos, listen to music or audio books”
  • sed & echo to edit files from the command line
  • wget to download webpages or audio files to read/listen offline
  • youtube-dl to play video or music locally and offline broken as of early 2023
  • diff and patch to compare, review (i.e. accept/reject like in Word) and merge file modifications
  • cat to display the content of files; my own local wiki for example
  • tail, head
  • umount to eject” external storage e.g. USB sticks, backup drive
  • xclip to copy to the clipboard from the command line
  • tar, gzip
  • gpgtar to encrypt directories
  • gpg to encrypt files
  • apt-get or dpkg to install, update or remove programmes, or update the operating system
  • awk (instead of a spreadsheet) to process text (data) or run computations (e.g. pivot table)
  • bc to do simple math but I prefer to have a calculator on my desk
  • apropos to find new programmes/tools/software locally (on my laptop) instead of searching the web
  • pdfunite to merge pdf
  • whatis when I want a short description of a programme I’ve never heard of
  • man if I want to learn more about a programme, or if I need to figure our how to run a command with a programme

Other programmes which I found interest in but have not put into use: sc, a spreadsheet calculator running in the terminal; pdftotext, a pdf to text converter; aspell, a spell checker on the command line, simple scan, checkinstall, ffmpeg, which, whereis.

You can also check the commands and shortcuts I use here.

Scripts I use

Feel free to email me if you have any questions or thoughts. Feedback more than welcome.

Journal: from 2017 to present

  • 2023-03
  • 2022-11
    • Deleted my Airbnb account.
  • 2022-10
    • Deleted my iCloud account I had created in 2009 when I first bought a MacBook.
    • Deleted the account I had with a password manager in the cloud”; I now use a password manager locally (i.e. on my computer only) and copyleft-licensed.
  • 2022-06
    • Deleted my accounts with LinkedIn, Twitter and Signal messenger.
    • Deprecated my Proton Mail account.
    • Started using an email address with my own domain name.
  • 2022-03
    • Switched to a 2012 second-hand laptop running Trisquel GNU/Linux as my main computer.
    • Deleted the last note-taking app I was using; I had been using note taking app since 2009.
    • Stopped using a Zettelkasten.
  • 2022-01
    • Deleted my accounts with WhatsApp, Uber, Netlify and Lyft
  • 2021-08
    • Deactivated my accounts with LinkedIn and Twitter (and subsequently deleted them in 2022).
    • Removed (proprietary) Duckduckgo as my default search engine - same as Google. I now use MetaGer, a search engine that is published (1) under copyleft licence (2) by a non-profit organisation - or searXNG.
    • Buy a 2012 second-hand laptop and installed the operating system Trisquel GNU/Linux to replace my Mac.
  • 2021-01
    • Deleted all my articles on Medium and deprecated my account (now deleted).
  • 2020-11
    • Ended Spotify and Netflix subscription and deleted my accounts.
    • Started to send printed pictures via post to my friends instead of digital pictures.
  • 2020-10
    • Stopped carrying my mobile phone by default when I leave home.
    • Started using an app to start a Zettelkasten (deleting the note-taking app and stopped using Zettelkasten in March 2022).
  • 2020-09
    • Started using an RSS reader.
  • 2020-08
    • Started to send more (postal) letters and postcards.
    • Started to send less instant messages. I call instead.
  • 2020-07
    • Switched back to an old dumb phone I had in my drawer as my main phone.
    • Resumed using an analog camera.
    • Resumed using a dumb MP3 player where I can drag and drop” music and audio files.
  • 2020-05
    • Replaced Pages, Number, Keynote, Notes, Mail, iCal, Screen capture, the proprietary password manager I used with free (libre) software alternatives.
  • 2019-07
    • Resumed using a pocket-size notebook and a pen to take notes on-the-go rather than using a smartphone; plus, paper and pen is best for thinking.1
  • 2018-07
    • Deleted email application from my smartphone.
  • 2018-03
    • Deleted my Facebook account.
  • 2017-08
    • Started a mailing list2.
  • 2017-05
    • Limited myself to check Facebook only once a day (and subsequently deleted it in 2018).
  • 2017-04
    • Deleted social media’ applications from my mobile phone
    • Deleted applications that use infinite scroll from my mobile phone.
  • 2016
    • Started using Signal (and subsequently deleted my account in 2022).
    • Started using ProtonMail (and subsequently deprecated it in 2022)
  • 2009
    • Switched to Mac from Windows (I later quit using Apple products in 2022).

  1. Pam A. Mueller, Daniel M. Oppenheimer (2014), The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, aps, Vol 25, Issue 6; Faria Sanaa, Tina Weston, Nicholas J.Cepeda (2013), Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers, Computers & Education Volume 62, pages 24-31; Anne Mangen, Liss Gøril Anda, Gunn H. Oxborough, Kolbjørn Kallesten Brønnick (2015), Handwriting versus Keyboard Writing: Effect on Word Recall, Journal of Writing Research, 7(2):227-247↩︎

  2. Paused as of 2020; I am focusing on my research.↩︎

personal computing gnu linux trisquel command-line interface (cli) office applications shell literacy

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