Uses for a headless desktop

Despite my minimalist nature, I can't turn down an old desktop to play with now and then. But sometimes I run out of monitors for these poor things and need to run some computers headless. What can we do over SSH? Here's what I've come up with.

-rtorrent. Not only is rtorrent one of the most powerful bittorrent clients I've ever used, but it's also command-line based and easy to configure and walk away from. Run once and walk away, basically. Keep seeding those Debian CD's, boys! More bandwidth on the ports!

-Internet radio. You could run your own with Icecast if you feel like playing a random jukebox across your stereo systems, or you could listen to one already on the net. My favorite is SomaFM (Groove Salad!) and there's a variety of codecs to choose from. I use the AACPlus 64k stream just because my bandwidth is in low supply, but I imagine an MP3 stream would be easier for some older computers.

To play Groove Salad, I install MPlayer, and then I get the download location of the playlist SomaFM gives me and I give that to mplayer.


And it's off. Plug in some stereos and you've got an internet radio player. Alternatively, you could use the MPlayer options to record the music stream for later listening, like this:

mplayer -playlist -ao pcm:file=mystream.wav -vc dummy -vo null

Keep in mind this fills up pretty quickly, though, so make sure you have enough hard drive space to leave it running! After you're done recording, you could break it up with Audacity and encode it with Vorbis tools or LAME for a portable music player.

-Newsbeuter has some downloading options I haven't played with yet, but if you have podcasts or a netlabel you follow in your RSS feeds, you could set Newsbeuter up to download them for you so they're ready to be listened to.

-Games. Actually, it's funny how handy it is to have a server lying around for games, especially if my friends come over and want to play Minecraft together. Most games have Linux server options.

But there was another option I had in mind. Console games like Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup tend not to use much (if any) computational power, but there are some like Dwarf Fortress that are pretty heavy on the processor. DF isn't purely text out of the box, but you can mod it to be so. Dwarf Fortress is a very powerful simulation game that requires more power than your usual used computer can handle, so this is a great idea for situations where your laptop is less powerful than your desktop.

Any other ideas?

Decibel - music player

is a music player for Gnome (and other GTK desktops). It has an optional file browser on the side, and a playlist to add songs to below the controls.

It reminds me of Amarok 1.4, but with the restraint of Potamus. I like Potamus, but it forces me to have an extra window open to add songs to the playlist, unlike Decibel.

It's in most distros. Give it a run.

Fewer Files

The day after finals were over, I reinstalled Ubuntu onto my laptop as a temporary measure until CentOS or Scientific Linux stabilize. It's fantastic.

I transferred only the following:

-my URL file for newsbeuter
-a couple of files off of my music player (have I mentioned how much I love Kahvi Collective?)
-a saved archive of the latest Dungeon Crawl source code

The rest I forced myself to obtain naturally, on the internet. No old wallpaper folders. No gigantic music libraries. No random text scraps of ideas littering my documents folder.

My productivity jumped drastically. My dependence on my files and the management of them takes up too much time. Some of the times I do need, sure. But I don't need to transfer over 30 GB every time I get a new OS install!

I didn't feel in the mood to build up to my usual Ubuntu installation, so I built down this time, and it left me in a pretty good position. And I have to admit, uninstalling 600 MB of programs and libraries feels pretty good.

I've said before that less isn't very useful unless you're doing it for the right reasons, but it's still a very powerful tool, as everything can be.

Self Control

This article was sent to me and I gave it a good read. It's a New York times article about people discussing the ways the brain might be changing due to constantly multitasking with technology. The brain discussion was interesting, though I would have preferred some more concrete terms and research than the ones offered, but hey, it's the newspaper.

I couldn't relate to the main characters of the article! They're described as endlessly checking e-mail, to the detriment of the people around them (I often wonder how they find these random people for introductions in news stories); off checking Facebook as they're doing homework or reading Twitter as they're preparing for a presentation.

Why don't I feel the same way? Certainly I spend some time on the internet, checking Reddit like the family in the story do. But I don't seem to have issues beyond entertainment value. Could it be that I run a blog with the word "minimalist" in the title? Perhaps! I could offer some solutions at least.

The biggest thing that jumped out at me was not that the people in the story couldn't help themselves, but that they didn't. The biggest example was the father who knows that Twitter gives him useless information when he's trying to do work. Why doesn't he turn off the Twitter feed? A lack of self control? A misplaced priority? A desire to know information when it happens? Certainly all of these things.

No one would be surprised if you placed yourself under four screens and an iPad filled with distractions and when you were asked to do work, nothing materialized. It takes self control many of us do not possess to get work done in an environment that breeds uninterest, so we must have the foresight to eliminate these things ahead of time.

How does one focus with technology pestering us so often?

1) Eliminate the internet's immediate gratification.

I find that doing simple things like unplugging the router or using a blocking program on your computer doesn't quite do it. I've seen friends of mine simply get up and plug the router back in, or reboot their computer to get around their artificial limitations. It's sad, really, but I see why. Some pope just can't go on without something, anything.

The best way to eliminate the internet is to set up a torrent on a headless second computer in a remote location in the building. Download something like Ubuntu so that it uses all of your bandwidth, and choose a good file size so that you have an allotted time. You can still access web pages and email on your other computer, sort of, but it takes a long time to load and by the time it does, people who have low self control have already moved back to their work.

2) Get rid of everything else.

Twitter feed? Close it. Email client? Nuke it from space. RSS? Fagettabahdit. Just turn it all off. If you're managing text, go X-less. Remove until you cannot remove any more. And don't be like the people in the story, who would most certainly say, "I can't remove that!" You can and you will.

3) White noise. Yes, it works. If the white noise irritates your ears, try some thunderstorm sounds instead. The internet's full of both.

4) Make a schedule, Gatsby style.

From The Great Gatsby itself:

Rise from bed 6.00 AM
Dumbbell exercise & wall-scaling 6.15 – 6.30 AM
Study electricity, etc 7.15 – 8.15 AM
Work 8.30 AM – 4.30 PM
Baseball & sports 4.30 – 5.00 PM
Practise elocution, poise & how to attain it 5.00 – 6.00 PM
Study needed inventions 7.00 – 9.00 PM

Be even more ridiculously specific than that. Break down every task you have into smaller chunks. Estimate the amount of time needed and craft a schedule from that. Print out the schedule and paste it over your workspace. Stick to it. Cross off time sand appropriate if you need to, but your shame for muddying up your lovely schedule will most surely bring you back to your task.

5) Make resolves, Gatsby style.

Again from the book:

No wasting time…
Read one improving book or magazine per week.
Save $ 5.00 $ 3.00 per week.

You don't need to have life improving bullet points. Mostly "Get it done and do it right the first time." I like to make these more interesting by adding expletives and insults to the sentence, to make it sound gruff and edgy like a wise, tough old man is passing down his wisdom through tough love.

Maximalism versus Minimalism

I've seen the concept of "maximalism" echoed through the web sphere a couple of times and I wanted to discuss the difference between it and minimalism.

Maximalism, as I'm lead to believe, is the act of pushing what you already have as far as it can go, finding new and inventive uses for the gadgets and computers that you bought.

Minimalism is (in the classical sense) the act of toning down what you do in order to focus, utilizing what you already have in more efficient ways.

Both ideas stem from the idea of "what you already have;" aka not going out and buying a new laptop because the old one doesn't do what you want any more. They're both tweaks of the perspective that end up with the same result: "I'm fine where I am."

The only difference between them, then, is why you feel fine. "I'm fine with what I have because I still manage to push its boundaries above and beyond!" versus "I'm fine with what I have because I can shrink my needs to work for me and the boundaries of my currently existing machine."

I doubt I'll make a distinction in the future between the two, but I think both can be followed in tandem.

It's about the output, not the tool.

You may recall hearing some people say, "oh, I could never switch to an ebook reader! I love books too much." They're in love with the container of the book, not the content.

Same with creation. I came up with an idea for a novel (I've done this before, many times, and actually written a few of them) and just dumped it into a text file.

Whenever I hear people asking, "what should I use for writing my novel?" I know they don't get it. It doesn't matter what tool you use to type your text. It's about the text that you've created, not about the tool you use to create the text. When I see authors bragging about writing an entire novel on the iPad, I wonder if it actually made a difference on the output, or if it was just a publicity stunt.

It doesn't matter if your GUI's minimalist, or if your computer is pretty. What matters is what you make with your tools.

Minimalism is not a state, but an action

Calling a physical object minimalist is erroneous, because things change. States are temporary. Just because it is minimalist now doesn't mean it will be in ten minutes, or a day, or two seconds. A clean desk is never a clean desk forever.

Minimalism is an action, a collection of verbs that describes how we do things and why. It says that we reject the prescribed notions of complexity and the burden of the rat race in search for a more personal, focused experience.

The verbs with which you choose to fill your minimalism bucket are your own, not mine, not some other blogger's, but your own.

Here's mine:

-Use Linux (surprise!)
-Eliminate for the sake of focus
-Rarely, if ever, buy new technology-related products
-Pride function over form, but realize that the two can be harmonious*
-Create rather than consume
-Learn more, constantly and forever
-Help others around me learn more, constantly and forever

*A good example of this principle is how the only thing I have plugged into sockets in my room is my alarm clock and a single power strip, which is stuck out at an easy-to-reach position in the floor. If I want to charge something or use my CD player, turn on the strip. It's all easy to access, easy to turn off, and saves electricity. Sure, it looks kind of ugly, having cables all over the place, unhidden, but it makes my life tremendously easier.

Usability is subjective

I can't tell you how many times I've heard Gnome or KDE insulted by some militant user of a competing GUI, usually in the framework of "usability is pretty terrible."

It's not that "usability" as a concept is already nebulous to begin with, but that it is presented as this objective score that one can actively compare to other scores. Usability means something different to everyone. K Mandla once said that there is no such thing as a bad interface. I have to agree with him here.

I mean, just look at the word. "Usability" means, the ability to be used, or in our example militant's use, how easy it is to get things done. The fundamental flaw in thinking that usability can be understood objectively is that assumes everyone uses a computer in the exact same way, which we all know is not true. Furthermore, this also assumes that even a single person will use a computer in the same way they always do it, 100% of the time, for the rest of their lives, which is also false.

I'll use myself as an example. My computer needs change daily, or at the very least, weekly. Sometimes I need a web browser and nothing else. Sometimes I'm doing heavy photo editing. Sometimes I'm writing code or a piece of fiction. Sometimes I'm reorganizing files, deleting cruft and reordering the rest. And sometimes I'm not interested in using the computer at all, and just want to check my e-mail.

Naturally, these are very minor, tiny examples of just a week of computer using in my life. But even these few things need drastically different programs and interfaces to work just right, and even then there's always room for improvement.

But who is to say that Firefox is better than Chrome for my use? One and only one: Me. Who is to say that Gnome is better than Windows XP for managing my files? Me. These are subjective, imperfect, vague and utterly personal judgements to make, and ones that cannot be forced on to others easily, if at all.

A minimalist perspective review of the Amazon Kindle 3

An updated supplement to this review is here.

I saved up some dollars and bought a Kindle from my local Target store, after thinking about it and debating the wisdom of doing so for several months.

As tends to be the case with items I research heavily before purchase, I'm enamored with it; the eInk screen effortlessly and gracefully destroys any desire to use an LCD screen for more than a few minutes. The Kindle I purchased, the third generation with wi-fi only, has a very quick screen refresh rate and excellent contrast, allowing me to read an entire novel without any eye strain (which I managed this weekend).

Amazon, in their overly joyous Kindle welcome letter, described their thesis behind the device as one that allows you to get lost in the text, and forget you're reading on an electronic display rather than a paperback novel. They have succeeded. What I love about this is a willingness to be more about the content and less about the container, something I've discussed before.

When I'm reading a book, I don't want all of that tablet crap with video and music and fancy effects. I want to get lost in a book. That's why I read. And the Kindle succeeds. The occasional image assists in the text, but the text itself is displayed clearly and beautifully, better than any other device before it. This is what makes it stand apart from tablets and smartphones, which are designed to repackage a smaller screen rather than a superior one.

I've mostly filled my Kindle with books that were on Project Gutenberg, Baen's Free Library, and Baen's CD's, though I will admit to downloading a few books that I either own physically or borrowed from the library and never finished or got around to. I'm moving out this summer and I intend to take as little as possible with me, because I won't have a very big room, so this helps. I wish there was an official way to re-format things though.

The biggest problem is finding books that are well formatted, because there's a large quality gap between the best and the worst. I also sampled a few free books from Amazon, but their formatting is nowhere near the best and their DRM is too much to handle. I don't expect to buy many books from them, aside from the occasional free or dollar download - there are enough places to buy or download DRM-free ebooks for me to not waste my time. (12-19-11 EDIT: I have since found ways in which to strip out the DRM using Calibre and various plugins. Thus, the Kindle store is more open to me.)

The Kindle does one thing well: it lets you read books. It's probably the best device I've ever seen on such a level, and this is why I love it so much. I'm very impressed, and I believe the benefits will allow me to focus on what I love to do - reading books - even more.

Whether or not it's minimalist to you is simply a matter of necessity. But I consider it a triumph.


For those of you who still cling to the outdated and utterly Neanderthal concept of dedicated MP3 players (snicker) you may find it useful to know that the latest build of Rockbox has been released. Rockbox, for the uninitiated, is an open source firmware for a collection of deadbeat misfit MP3 players.

As far as the devices I've used with it have gone, it's turned good players into absolutely fantastic players, much like a swap of OS can make a poor computer great again. Few manufacturers (if any) would spend the time to optimise their codecs to save battery life and increase performance, but Rockbox does it! Heck, is there any player maker that includes as many features as Rockbox supports without requiring you to step up to something fancier, like those mini-tablet/half-smartphone devices?

On my Sansa Clip+, Rockbox increased my battery life (especially while using OGG Vorbis), gave me a less pretty but more intelligently designed UI, allowed me to swap out themes, let me play many more codecs and file formats, gave me a more stable MP3 player all-around (especially when it came to the battery life meter, which is actually reliable now), and made the Sansa Clip+ an MP3 player in a class of its own. Oh, and the clock is accurate and everywhere, saving me the trouble of finding another device that displays the time.

If you have a music player and it is supported in the latest Rockbox, I cannot recommend installing it enough. If you're all about prolonging the life of your technology, this is the sort of software that should delight you.

My life in 5 gigs

For a pair of days I reinstalled Debian Testing with Fluxbox and elected to use only 5 GB to do my day to day tasks. This included my entire root partition (though not swap) and user directory, which I tend not to put on a separate partition because I don't want to mess up each OS' configuration files.

The OS, after most of my required programs were in place, was a surprisingly hefty 1.8 GB. I dumped a bit of music in there and it became rather crowded.

I will be honest: it was difficult. I'm used to having room for downloads and larger files. However, it was rather enlightening because I had to keep track of my space, and this, keep things neat and tidy.

I can't do it all day, every day. I've already went back to my main Ubuntu install; too many things I use or need on a regular basis. Besides, I do have backups of my most needed documents and files, but it's not a backup if it's my only copy, right? As much as I'd like to, I can't really squish myself into 5 GB.

Enjoyable experiment, though. Give it a shot if you have a few gigs to spare.

Using wget to mirror websites

On a rare occasion, I find a website worth saving. Sometimes it's old and may not be around forever. I just want a local copy, right?

Thanks to the massive help that is search engines, I found a handy program called wget that's installed on every Linux box! It's like the coolest of all time. Cough.

Say you want to download all 125 blog posts of MGL? Script it, baby:

wget \
--recursive \
--no-clobber \
--page-requisites \
--html-extension \
--convert-links \
--restrict-file-names=windows \
--domains \
--no-parent \

In the domains section, that limits it to just a single domain. I'm hoping I can limit it even further, or learn enough bash to limit it myself via scripting. Either way, it's a nifty trick. I managed to get all of Old Man Murray in a minute (including those cute little static image advertisements!), and made a local copy of MGL in about twenty seconds. Handy for backing up websites that may not be around forever, for an e-book reader, or just for something to do when the internet's out.

Source for this was Linux Journal. They have more info about the various options, so go ping them. Five ad bugs.

Name change, among other points

I've realised that the confusion on my part between my blog which was called Minimal Linux and Nathan's Tumblr which was also called Minimal Linux was becoming more of a pain than I could have imagined. Thus, I experimented and came up with a new name: Minimalist GNU/Linux, or MGL for short.

I added the -ist just for differentiation sake, and the GNU part onto Linux to make Stallman happy. Sure, I made the name way more complicated and harder to say, but at least there are no other blogs with the same name, gosh darn it.

If anyone has any better named that aren't quite so long, suggest them in the comments.


According to Blogspot's stats window, my traffic has gone up in the last week. I sincerely thank you all who are reading and I hope you find something interesting here.


I found it interesting when a few websites were buzzing about Firefox 4's increased speed compared to Chrome. Sure, this is nice that we're aiming for performance, but it doesn't really fix the problem: websites are getting too bloated, fat, and inefficient.

If you've ever had the displeasure of browsing OMGUbuntu for news, you'll find that, without an ad blocker or ad bug blocker like Ghostery, the website's performance is slow, sluggish, and can affect other tabs in your session. Ever used Slashdot for more than ten minutes? Their heaps of Ajax will start to beat you over the head. How about ComputerWorld or any of those tabloid PC news websites? Yeah, if you're not using a text web browser for them (which will only net you a paragraph of their stories at a time, broken up over ten pages anyhow) you might as well be running a high end video game.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. But while it's great that the browsers are trying to fix the problem, the issues are really with the websites where we get our content. I haven't explored the design of MGL much, but I've tried to make my website layout fairly easy to navigate, explore, and see. I WANT people to see my content. That's the whole point of making a website.

It's sad that the only way you can actually browse the internet with some semblance of sanity and security is in a locked down Firefox with Adblock Plus, Ghostery, Flashblock, and sometimes NoScript. You really do have to stop all that junk from entering your computer, and it's pitiful.

Green computing in simple terms

I've linked over to this blog from my other, more mainstream writing (if you could call it that) and I had more than a few people ask me how to use their computers in a more green fashion, and if it's linked to minimalism at all.

The process is simple.

1) Learn Linux.

2) Use Linux.

3) Stop buying computers. If you need to buy something, buy used and low powered. Aim for laptops.

3.5) If the power usage is too high, replace parts with power saving parts.

4) Turn on the power management in Linux.

5) Get a good power strip that can disconnect all power usage when a switch is flipped. Use it when the computer is off.

Linux helps with this, but the possibilities are enormous in all three operating systems, though not entirely equal. I picked Linux as a special case because its lifespan is not dependant on the growth of software bloat*, but rather the reliability of the hardware it's situated on. Mac OS X could possibly be similar (post their PowerPC swap), but then again, suggesting one buy a new computer for the privilege isn't very green.

This is equally valid for other components as well, such as tablets, MP3 players, cell phones, remote storage, and input devices such as mice, touch pads, and keyboards. Personally, I question the need for buying most of the list entirely for any reason other than replacing a broken and strictly required product, but then again if you tried to take away my Sansa Clip+ away from me I may just strangle you. As usual personal priorities are more of an issue than otherwise.

In any case, it's not a complicated issue.


*The exception to this would be some of the bigger desktop distros like Ubuntu, who seem to have grown quite a bit on the CPU and RAM munchies front (though they do seem to be trying to keep this down in 10.10). However, it's easy to switch to something a bit more judicious in its systems requirement front, such as Debian, or simply switching to a lighter desktop like IceWM or Fluxbox.

Letting the garbage can do our minimalism for us

Minimalism as a life style is not synonymous with the art style. Throwing away everything every six months? That's confusion, not minimalism.

A really effective purge can be an empowering act. Suddenly what was once cluttered is now clean by design. What was once complex is now simple. It really feels great to be able to have that binary switch of, first, when that junk accumulates, and second, when that junk is removed judiciously.

However, I maintain that if you are continuously purging, day in and day out, and it never seems to stop the problem, maybe the issue is at the source of the junk, not the junk itself.

Just last year I cleaned out my video game collection, and I removed and sold most of my PC games (barring ones I couldn't technically remove - some DRM-inflicted games cannot be removed from my account). Yet, it seems that over time, I accumulate more and more, forgetting what is important to me and thus, I'm again faced with a shelf of games that I don't really need. Most of these games were $3 or less, and games that legitimately sounded like fun, but in retrospect, the burden imposed on me by their mere existence was more of a cost than the enjoyment I got out of their function.

I'm letting the garbage can do my minimalism for me. But this ignores the fundamental truth of minimalism: just because it looks minimalist doesn't mean it really is. A clean shelf doesn't imply minimalism any more than a clean sink - both we can assume to be in a temporary state of aesthetic minimalism and as such we can never assume that what is clean will stay clean.

How to fix this? Admit there is a problem, naturally. Understand the reason why the problem is a recurring action. Think of ways to solve the problem at its source. Fix it.

Why do I continue to buy PC games? Well, the nature of the market allows me to grab some fancy games on clearance for $5 or less. The drive to buy new games all the time is a habit borne from a saturation within the industry - you get so used to trying new things that, once you've found a handful of games you really like and don't need much else for entertainment, it's still hard to stop buying new games.

How can I solve this problem? Well, ignore the games entirely, and concentrate on a different hobby. Play more of the games I already own to remind myself that I already have enough. Concentrate on negative aspects of the purchase - physical burden, woes with the DRM, etc. Blog about it (yes, this helps me quite a bit - it transforms my fluid thoughts into more solid words and arguments).

And thus, the only step left is to implement the fixes and walk away.

Emacs key bindings wallpaper

I'm still learning Emacs and I decided to make a wallpaper of the most popular keybindings to help. Use it at your leisure.

The font used in the wallpaper was Inconsolata, a stunning monospace font.

I've been learning Emcas mostly because I like it as a text editor, but also for Org Mode (which some keybindings can be seen on the right side of my wallpaper). Org Mode is a powerful to-do list that can organize your tasks, store different dates, times and deadlines, and quickly and efficiently add or remove tasks as they are finished.

It's simple on first glace, but like Emacs, if you continue to dig you will find more and more shortcuts, functionality, and design. It's an incredibly good program for organizing data in any sort, and as a to-do list it's the best I've ever encountered.

Words on the no-Google thing

So, I said I was going to try going no-Google for a bit and I did give it a go.

Search: Duck Duck Go and IXQuick are both quite good and don't keep an eye on you when you're searching, though they don't search quite as efficiently as Google. Searching for anything mildly complicated (such as "flickering video picture on ubuntu laptop hp") comes up with almost nothing in those two while Google offers useful forum threads and bug reports. However, Duck Duck Go is a lot faster and IXQuick is a bit more reliable for small words and phrases.

Google Reader: Newsbeuter is faster and better equipped to display text in an efficient manner. I prefer a terminal application for text such as this anyhow. I find it difficult to migrate away.

To use it, run it once so it creates the .newsbeuter folder in your home. Go into it, create a file called urls and open it up. In there, post, one line at a time, the feed URL's that you wish to use.

Mine is as follows:


Email: Okay, this is the hard one.

I tried to find a free email service as good as Gmail. No such thing. Paid? Well, Lavabit looked okay, but they wouldn't let me join (something about people abusing the service or something). Fastmail looked fine, and I actually made an account to try it. The user interface could have been better, but it was definitely usable.

The issue was getting all of my email to go into the single address, which was an issue. I eventually gave up on this piece, which I may come back to at a later date.

I considered doing an email server, but that looks far too complicated, unless someone has an easy route.

Why I use Linux

I don't think Linux users stand up for their OS enough.

I just think that at times we need to remind ourselves of why we use a program. And with Linux, it makes such sweeping changes to the way we use computers that I think this gets swept under the rug in exchange of Windows and Apple fanboys decrying its origins and attacking its philosophy, calling it "not there yet" (whatever the heck that means).

I would hope that my foray into Minimalism in Linux is valuable enough for other people to read about. There's certainly enough for the Apple side of things. Why not the rest of us?

-It's fragmented.

Well, that's what Steve Jobs called it. But I've got a better word: decentralised.

You're not dependent on anyone. Rather, you work upon the collective work of many, in the way that BitTorrent downloads files from the collective bandwidth of many. It's almost impossible to kill BitTorrent because you'd have to remove every single user or else it just keeps on working, server or no server.

Linux is like that. Sure, standards would be nice. But without them, you can't ever kill Linux. It's never going away. That's an incredible promise that no other software maker can claim.

In addition, the decentralisation allows for miniature competition, fostering innovation - and none of that fakey marketing fluff, either.

-It's customizable.

From the highest level of changing wallpapers to the lowest level of modifying the very kernel, everything in Linux is open to my hand. While I rarely take advantage of the low level stuff, it excites me that there's a whole world ready for me to explore. There's still unconquered territory.

-It's easy.

I have been using Linux for four years, and yet it took me a short afternoon to learn how to use its desktop. Mind you, this was back when it was still a pain to use and install. Nowadays it's a breeze.

I have taught my mother Gnome on my laptop to access her e-Mail in a pair of sentences. I taught my non-tech neighbour how to configure and work Ubuntu on a more fine-grained level in an afternoon (covering basic topics like package management). I helped a fellow Computer Science student migrate to Linux entirely in about a week of answering questions - excited, open, wide eyed questions that had the same eager interest that I had when I first booted up my Linux LiveCD. He now uses Linux partially full time.

Linux can be used by all sorts of people. Don't give a second glance to people who say Linux is "too hard" for the "common user" (a strawman if I ever saw one, by the way). Anyone can learn to use Linux, on the surface or deep within - whatever suits them, once their mind is open.

-It works now.

I first used Ubuntu at release 7.04. It was fun to play with. However, Wi-fi didn't work. My graphics card didn't work. One of my monitors was never detected properly. So I spent my time exploring, but never seriously considering my migration.

And then, over the years, something happened.

Linux started working.

Ubuntu 8.04 brought graphics card drivers that worked. 8.10 brought Wi-Fi for nearly every one of my computers and cards. 9.04 brought a monitor detection that worked out of the box. 9.10 booted in seconds. 10.04 has been amazingly stable, and 10.10 has a fantastic installation process and great battery life.

The evolution was astounding, and at times I can barely believe the amazing distance Linux has crossed in such a short time. Three years. A step that has brought a change in the way the tech industry works, inventing a new category of computers (the netbook and nettop) and creating competition so fierce that even Apple has been forced to copy ideas from desktop Linux.

-It's deep.

If I ever want to increase my productivity, there's always something new to learn. Oh, there's vi. Oh, there's emacs. Oh, there's a better window manager to try. Oh, there's a better taskbar I can use.

These things require me to learn. But I like that. I love learning. I love adapting to new computing methods and changing the way I work. Every time I make another step forward, I become more capable of using my computer, to the point where I've done laps around the power user of Windows XP I used to be. The process is fun and the reward is great, and these are skills I'll be able to use for the rest of the my computing career. Once I'm and old curmudgeon, I can stop learning and still be amazingly productive.

There's no brick wall of productivity. I don't have to spend money on shiny new apps to help me be more productive. All I have to do is just browse Synaptic for a minute or two, or go find a good blog about the command line to learn some new bash tricks.

-It's light.

I'm talking, like, in the K Mandla sense. I'm running Debian Testing in a machine with a Core 2 Duo, 4 Gb of RAM, and a sweet graphics card. It's a dream, performance wise. I don't think I've ever broken a 25% usage on the RAM.

But let's say that a relative gives me a netbook that they don't want any more. Sweet! I can tailor Debian to that. Barring any driver issues (which are rarer and rarer these days), I can run pretty much anything I want on that machine too.

But let's say I spot a $5 Pentium II at a garage sale. Sweet! I can run Linux on that too. Probably not Gnome, but Fluxbox or DWM, sure. It will run fine, again barring driver issues. I might be able to put it to some good use as a server or something, even.

-It's contains superior standards, when it has them.

When Linux has formats available for you to switch to, it doesn't force them down your throat. they're just there. But when you do switch, it always seems to be a great move. OGG Vorbis is a gloriously underrated codec, as I've established before. Plain text should be used more often. ODT is better than DOC. And so on.

(There are exceptions to this one. Theora, for example, which does have issues. But WebM looks okay.)

I consider Gnome or Fluxbox to be superior to the other GUI's in the business, for my use, but I think that's a learning curve more than anything.

-It's free.

This one's an obvious one, but, I don't have to pay anyone to install Linux on all of my computers! I have an old HP desktop, right? Ah, throw something on there and leave it sitting around for my brother and sister so that they don't have to share a single computer. Or install something and use it as a media server or jukebox. My imagination is my limit, and it doesn't cost me anything.

I can also redistribute, customize, and not pay a single dime. I can download a ton of new programs, games, and tools and not pay a single dime. That's power I can believe in.

-It's stable, in an industry sense.

I once found the endless hamster wheel of the tech industry amusing and exciting. Oh, boy, new innovations! The wave of the future is something new!

Over time, observation reveals what this hamster wheel really is: a hamster wheel. A hamster wheel that produces profit for the businesses involved. Sure, sometimes a company will come out with something fancy and shiny and new, but most of the time it's incremental features that don't matter, with enough concentrated advertising to kill a lion. They want to make you feel like you need whatever new item they've made. Oh, man, look at that new technology. This changes everything!

I like Linux because it has none of that crap. Software updates are reasonable and useful. They're genuinely better than what came before (with the exception of some Ubuntu and Fedora releases), and you don't have to pay to get them. They're not all about pushing the hardware side, and as such, you get a universe that's quiet, peaceful, and not doused and lit aflame with ads.

-It allows me to remove.

This is distro dependent, but at least in Debian, I can uninstall pretty much anything I want. I can even start with nothing and work up. This is a huge feature that no other OS has (other than BSD).


Pre-blog post-script: I took notice as I was writing the last sentence of my blog that my language is quite different than what I'm accustomed to. I have been listening to the audiobook on LibriVox of Pride and Prejudice (highly recommended) and, dear heavens, I've started internalizing her prose! This will not do.

I'm too lazy to change it.


I am very partial to the ideas that K. Mandla offers in regards to minimalism, in that rather than try and follow a path of computing simplicity, a better virtue is to make the most out of what you have. I suppose I follow that idea to an extent, but what I think separates my path from his is that I offer moderation.

The OGG Vorbis experiment was a rousing success to the point where I now have 8 GB of OGG music, lots of it free and new. I spent the last twenty minutes sampling, snap judging, and discarding much of it. I cut back to 2.5 GB. (I'm not counting any audiobooks though; I just downloaded those last weekend! Those are 6 GB and require vicious QA on my part, and, as a result, equally bloody cutting.)

I've decided that while it is nice to have the MicroSD card of 4 GB on my Sansa Clip+, it would be of more use to my focus if I let go of it and used the 4 GB of internal memory only. The opportunity to have many, many albums from Kahvi collective and audiobooks from LibriVox is tempting, but I find that I appreciate my library less if I am too overwhelmed by the management and depth of my wares. I simply don't need to carry my entire library around with me, wherever I go.

There was once a time when I was convinced that 16 GB was not enough space! Nowadays, I purposefully downgrade for my own sake. My minimalism has blossomed. I'd write a sentence here about how "I loved big minimalism" or something, but for one, this is quite the opposite of oppression, and second, Jane Austin didn't write 1984.

Challenge - Google Free

It's time to explore a bit.

This coming week, I will discard my use of Google's services, with one exception: this blog.

Gmail: I'm already searching for a good e-mail provider. Hosting my own appears to be too high of maintenance. I'm looking into Lavabit and FastMail. Any other recommendations?

Google Reader - Newsbeuter appears to be the logical choice for RSS feeds.

Google Search - I have used Duck Duck Go before. In fact, it's sometimes better than Google.

I can stop using Chromium too, even though it's divorced from Google. Firefox is my friend anyway.

A New Challenge

Let's not let my new shiny theme distract from this valuable content! This week I actually have free time, which is a refreshing change. And with the success of my OGG Vorbis switch, I'm considering doing yet another self-dare.

The problem with most of the ones that I've thought of is that they interfere with my school work directly. I can't switch to exclusively free software, and I can't switch to exclusively console. My constraints, however self-imposed, are subject to the structure that I am driving forward within to receive my education. What a pity that the educational system cannot see the folly of its own mandated structure!

As Ken from Project HeliOS has said, "A child's exposure to technology should never be predicated on the ability to afford it."

In any case, I'm considering a few options, such as using nothing but Emacs for text or only installing software through compilers. But these lack the same simplicity as the OGG swap, and they're not quite as immediate.

Suggestions are, as usual, encouraged.


I've found that LibriVox is quite appealing, once you find a good reader and book.

The website isn't greeat, but with the Firefox downloader add-on DownthemAll (thankfully open source!) it's trivial to download all OGG files on a page. I've already downloaded a dozen audiobooks.

The OGG filter for Down Them All is:


For Theora links:



You're at the computer store. You're looking at laptops. On one end they have a row of Macs, all shiny and pretty. On the other end there's a few rows of Windows 7 machines, all in various states of usability. You also have a couple of Linux LiveCD's in your hand for testing.

You go over to the Windows machines and find one that looks somewhat Linux compatible and pop in an Ubuntu disc. It boot without a hitch.

And then you see, to your left, a grandmother, wandering about the computer area, confused as a duck in the Sahara. And you think to yourself, "Now, if I were a grandmother, what computer would I use?"

And you look at the Macs and suddenly they look easier, and faster, and better. You look at the iPad and it looks cooler and more capable of meeting your needs.


Do you see what went wrong here? There are two main points:

-Your perspective of the grandmother is entirely based off of your stereotypes of elderly people. As such, trying to say, "this is what grandma would use" is next to useless, because by and large that perspective doesn't really exist. These people all have unique perspectives that you cannot assume in your mind without making some logical errors along the way.

Any time anyone ever says "Joe User" and uses it as an argument for or against a certain type of computer has not realized that the definition of Joe User is entirely subjective, and by and large, devoid of any meaning.

My mother could definitely learn to use Ubuntu. My grandmother could learn to use Ubuntu. Some of my customers at the retail store I work at, maybe not. The lady I spent about twenty minutes explaining the concept of an iPod to, maybe not. Simply put, generalizing all computer users as a mass that could never use Linux is a poorly misguided fallacy.

-This made-up perspective of grandma is entirely irrelevant to whether or not a computer is right for you, because YOU ARE NOT GRANDMA. Shopping for a computer is hard enough as it is; trying to do it with multiple personalities is even harder.

"But what if I was a (blank)," is a mistake because you're not. If I said to myself, "but what if I was a hardcore PC Gamer" then I would fail at my purchasing because I'm not a hardcore PC Gamer, and I don't have the same needs. I'd end up spending far more than I ever wanted to before, because in this fantasy where I'm consumed by my made up perspective, i'd need to buy a more powerful processor and an expensive graphics card, when in reality neither of those things are important to me.

If I were to shop as Grandma, I would be turning down a computer that works great with Ubuntu just because I think that my personal subjective perspective of Grandma couldn't handle the learning curve that I already went through several times and can now run circles around. I'm dumbing myself and my own skills down because people around me are not nearly as good at using Linux as I am.

Thoughts on OGG switch

Now that I've officially made it two weeks since I said that I would be switching to OGG Vorbis completely, I think it's time to do a little bit of introspection as to how it worked.

Note that this act was not necessarily about switching to Vorbis specifically, however much I like the codec and its benefits to my hardware. It was more about my relationship with my music library.

-As someone who usually purchases music he really likes on CD, this experiment has reconnected me with those albums that I really love listening to over and over again. Some of the CD's I didn't even have in my larger MP3 library (some for better reasons than others) so the nostalgia was a nice kick in the face.

-The most astounding thing was when I reinstalled Ubuntu and found that, when copying my music over, I didn't really feel like I needed anything more than the Vorbis stuff. I finally broke my Vorbis-only pact by digging through my MP3 files and copying what I missed, and the list was astoundingly small.

Some of that music, really, doesn't really have a reason to be in there. I let my music library pile up and it gets big and fat, with music that I can't really say I like. I'm not always honest with myself in respect to what I like or dislike ("Oh, but I might like it later!" was common, as well as "Oh, but I like this ONE SONG") so this is rather refreshing.

-I value physical discs far more than I did and will be purchasing music physically almost exclusively from here on out. Sure, there's the format freedom. But I'm far too flippant when I'm dealing with music files digitally. Making them physical makes it easier to apply minimalist philosophy to them, and as such I'm far more cautious when buying new discs.

-I value free music on the internet far more than I did, and I see myself spending less money on music and more time digging for interesting new bands in the Internet Archive. I also seed more on Jamendo.

-My car does not support OGG Vorbis files and this makes me sad. I'll admit, I did use one of my old MP3 file discs in my car for the two weeks. Not often, but yes, I did it. It's easier to use than plugging in the Sansa Clip+ and navigating the interface, and I was too busy with midterms to make a suitable replacement. I've got new CD's coming in the mail from Amazon as a treat for making it through the Vorbis swap mostly intact, so those will quickly remove the need for said MP3 Disc.

All in all, a success. I will continue to OGG Vorbis my life up, and reap the benefits.

Notes on Ubuntu 10.10

My installation of Debian Testing fell apart due to stupidity on my part. I'm unfortunately sick and don't have time or energy to fix it, but I do need my computer in working order this week for a presentation.

So I decided to use my misfortune to give Ubuntu 10.10 (64-bit) a try. Here are some notes.

-Out of the box, it is lighter and less bloated than Ubuntu 10.04. It uses about 200 MB on my machine, compared to 350 MB or so in 10.04. I'm glad they fixed that. If you turn off Bluetooth and the email pinger and all that other garbage, it uses very little RAM after boot, which is impressive. I'm tempted to see if Xubuntu got performance upgrades as well.

-The installer is streamlined now and looks and operates far better than the old one. It saves some of the mundane questions for when it's actually installing and copying files, which is pretty neat. It can also download updates and ubuntu-restricted-extras if asked.

-It still has a ton of social networking applications I have no use for. A quick trip to Synaptic fixed that.

-Their version of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is outdated. Boo hoo.

-The Network Manager applet doesn't connect to some wi-fi networks automatically, even if they are marked as auto. Thankfully they connect quickly enough with a button press, but it's still annoying. I hope this gets fixed in an update.

-The default theme and wallpaper is still ugly, but significantly less so than 10.04. The default font is cool but a bit of an eyesore.

-Battery life is amazing. What are they putting in these distros to make them last so long? 10.10 approaches four hours, even while using wi-fi! Maybe this goes hand in hand with the performance aspect.

Verdict: It seems pretty solid and stable. 10.10 strikes me more as a service pack for 10.04 than a full blown new distro, which I think is a good thing for Ubuntu at this point. I'm actually surprised to hear myself say this, but it may be worth upgrading, depending on how close you are to Ubuntu's default desktop. If you deviate a little to none, I'd suggest you look into it. If you're totally out of town, probably not.

I don't know if I will stay here or move back to Debian. Maybe after I'm done being sick and busy.

Freedom: To what extent?

Many ideals come with a scale that, as we progress, we must recalculate constantly. This scale is the flexibility this ideal will offer us.

I support free software and the FSF. If I had one of those laptops that can run with free software exclusively, I would use it. I like the idea of discarding software that isn't open and friendly to developers and users alike.

For me, it's an easy way to eliminate things that I'm on the fence about. Is it proprietary? Ah, don't need it. I use plain text and ODF files to save documents and I'm making my way over to OGG Vorbis. But sometimes I do need or want software that isn't free. nVidia drivers, for example. Wi-fi card drivers. The FSF used to say that the support in Linux for 3D applications was non-free, though the code has since been re-released under a new license.

I would love to be like Stallman and refuse to use hardware and software that isn't free. It seems delightfully minimalist in its appeal; discarding the inferior and unnecessary for a greater cause. It's a shame that we're so tantalizingly close as well; I only run a handful of software that isn't free on either computer, save Windows 7 (for games and school related Windows applications). It's so close. It would almost feel a little more fair if free software wasn't as close as it is today, just so that it didn't have to bother me.

But in the situation I'm currently in, having a attitude of inflexibility will get me nowhere. It's sad, but it's true.

Despite this, I'm still downloading gNewSense so I have a free software testing LiveCD lying around. I wish they's release more details about their 3.0 release, which will be based on Debian.

More OGG!

When I started this OGG experiment I took out my little MicroSD card out of my Sansa Clip+, thinking, oh, I'll never fill up that much space. Yet here I am putting it back.

The hypothesis was reversed. I've got more new music than I've had in months. I haven't paid a single penny, at least so far. This hunt has shown me just how much great music is on the internet, if you just look.

This is mostly Kahvi Collective's fault, and this torrent shows why. Jamendo was also a culprit. Anything remotely interesting on that site that happens to have an active OGG torrent I throw into a client and download/seed (because hey, it's all legal!).

To be honest, it's been a busy week, and this has been a nice way to cool down: find some good music on Jamendo, throw up some torrents for some overnight downloading, and sit back and listen to the previous night's wares.

Parting note: I recommend this song greatly, which can be downloaded in this Kahvi album for free. It's one of my new favorite songs.

Tiling WM's

I decided to try out a few new window managers and configurations in Debian today.

I tried Enlightenment 16, which was, well, baffling. I'm not entirely sure what the extra windows do, and the general workings of the desktop baffle me. It's now the window manager of Gnome on my Debian install instead of Metacity, which is kind of an issue.

Thankfully, the star of the show was Awesome, a tiling window manager that managed to steal what I liked from Fluxbox and make it its own thing. I've got to say, the tiling WM thing really just lights my bulb. It's really quite fantastic.

I'm going to revive the old Celeron desktop and play with Arch for a bit, and while I'm there I'm going to try my hand at compiling and running some of the tiling WM's to see which one I like. Awesome seems a little bit too heavy for my tastes, but I'm not sure I can strip down to DWM just yet. Musca looks promising, as does Ratpoison.

On a tangential note, I managed to figure out Newsbeuter, the popular RSS feed reader for the console. I may migrate from Google Reader depending on what I can make it do.


I did get around to trying Ubuntu 10.10. Verdict? Pretty font, but everything else is the same. I'm sticking with 10.04 for my Ubuntu needs.

Distro's Recycling Angle

I really like how some distros are angling their wares in a different light: a recycle angle.

Take a look at this godawful website, for example. It's a light version of Lubuntu, called Quelitu, that promotes using old computers to save the environment.

I've seen this in Watt OS as well, among other random projects (I believe even the open source Notepad++ program for Windows was all about saving CPU cycles or something) and it pleases me. It shows that, if anything, there is a market for old computers running Linux.

I'd probably not install an Ubuntu derivative on an old computer myself, and probably customize a Debian install or use Absolute Linux, but I like that some people find it worthy of their time and are trying to spreading the word to the community. Maybe I'll write a nice, basic post for people on how to recycle with Linux in the near future.

OS Upgrades

They always come at the most inopportune times.

If you aren't already following minimal linux on tumblr then I have done a great disservice to you. He notes that he won't be upgrading to Ubuntu 10.10, which was released today.

I'm downloading the LiveCD, but only because I want something to play with and break. My days of using Ubuntu as my main OS are, as far as I can see, over. As TTML noted, long term releases are becoming far more appealing, and Debian in particular is becoming an attractive alternative. It lies somewhere between Ubuntu's days when it would hold your hand an still keep a sense of decency about it (8.04 LTS) and the ultimate simplicity and appeal of Slackware, which I still have a cherished spot in my heart for, all wrapped up in a nice long release cycle.

I do have the time to mess with the new Ubuntu, but I'd rather use that time for something more useful, like learning how to use tiling window managers. So I'm just downloading and poking about to see what's new, but of the first time since I started using Ubuntu, it's a release that I don't particularly care about.

I think that the massive speed at which Desktop Linux had been improving since 2006 has finally tapered off. It is where it needs to be. I think this is where my apathy springs from - it no longer matters what distro or what version number you're using. It all pretty much works.

Maybe if I pick up KDE again it will move me to care a bit more, but I doubt that's a very productive move.

Three minor updates

1) I deleted all of my Facebook friends except for 35 and made my profile private. This wasn't directly because I saw The Social Network a few days ago (which was astounding) but close.

2) We went apartment/house shopping and frugality is now the name of the game.

3) I'm in the midst of doing a CS programming assignment and haven't had much time to fool around with Linux much, except that:

4) My campus uses a Samba printer system. Printing via Samba is borked in Debian (or at least I couldn't figure out how to turn it on) so I virtualized Ubuntu inside of it and printed from there. I wish more professors were open to accepting files electronically, but no.

Advertising bugs

This website has one advertising bug watching you. It's called Google Analytics, and it's used to run the comments section. Otherwise, there's nothing. I don't need advertising on here.

On my blog on Gamespot, there are three bugs watching the users. Comscore Beacon, Facebook Connect, and Revenue Science. Blockng these bugs does not affect the webpage at all. They're used exclusively to find things out about you. Keep in kind many of Gamespot's ads are glorified images with links.

Reddit, Soup, and Tumblr all have two bugs apiece.

Some unnamed tech sites have up to twelve bugs watching you. None of these will assist you from reading the website. Using Ghostery, these are all blocked and you can see the content left behind. Whatever scraps are left.

Side note: I find it amusing that many of the websites promoting frugality and small living have so many bugs on their website that you may be blinded by the sheer intensity of the thing. I'm not mean enough to post examples (for both you and the websites' sake - are those things contagious?), but check out the subreddit r/Anticonsumption for some nasty examples, with the occasional interesting article.

OGG Vorbis update #2

As I mentioned in the previous blog, the Vorbis switcheroo has gone stunningly well.

My music library has both shrunk and grown. It's more manageable, less complicated, and far more engaging. This has also simplified my hardware needs as well - it has completely removed any desire to use the iPods.

I said I was going to stay OGG for a week, so I'll keep doing so, but I see no reason to go back. I may, after the week is up, transfer some MP3 songs that I missed, and consider buying the disc copies so I can craft my own OGG's.

I'm surprised of how little I miss both my established music library as well as buying new music. I know, it's only been four days, but as someone who lives and breathes music, this is a pretty radical change for me, and one that I appreciate.

Stuff I've discovered:

-Jason Rohrer is an independent game developer who follows our path.You should check out his stuff, even if you're not a gamer; I plan on buying and discussing Sleep is Death in the future. Before Rohrer made games, he ran an experimental record label and made some of his own tunes. They're good.

-I like Abyssal Plains. I own the full MP3 album Fourth Quadrant of the Mandala, but my favorite tracks are already included in a free Kahvi EP, available in Ogg. I especially love the first song.

-The game Unreal Tournament 2004 uses OGG as its music codec. The files are all easy to access. There's an odd drinking song about boats in there that puzzled me greatly. I hope it's a developer sense of humor.

-Did I ever link to this blog? Legally free albums, on a blog. Yep. Good blog.

-Ripping to FLAC saves you time re-encoding things later. And it's not like I'm doing anything else with all of that hard drive space. I get lost in 320 GB. I have to partition it down to 100 GB or I have nightmares.

Limiting choice

One of the many criticisms I hear or Linux is that there's so much choice that one needs to have a ton of knowledge to even parse simple things, like which text editor to use.

What I find most useful for dealing with this initial wave of confusion is to hold everything to ridiculously high standards, or just picking something important to me and running with it.

When it came to picking the Linux distribution itself, I picked the one I knew the best, which was Ubuntu (I spent a year before actually using Ubuntu as a desktop just playing with the LiveCD, as a minor hobby). I moved to Fedora to learn about Red Hat and RHEL, and when I'd learned my piece I moved back to Ubuntu, where I found myself in shallow water. So, Debian Testing is my new home.

These are not very large and huge reasons, but they're reasons enough for me to say, okay, time to bunker down and make a new OS home. The main thing here is that I don't take my choice too seriously. What's the use of clamming up and saying, "Oh, but what if I choose wrong?" Who cares! The more trivial it is, the more fun it is to cross the options off, one by one.

But far and away the best way I've found to deal with choice is to limit it. sort of like that Who Wants To Be a Millionaire show, where they eliminate two of the incorrect answers to help the player. Just start crossing off options on your list like there's no tomorrow.

I've found that switching to OGG Vorbis is not only easier than I expected, but actually has allowed me to lighten my music load by eliminating choice. Now, I can only listen to music that I own on CD or can find online in either lossless or OGG format. Not only does this emphasize quality (I only keep my very favorite albums in disc format) but it also allows me to go exploring for things I never would have found while I was still using MP3.

The reasoning behind switching to OGG wasn't important. What really mattered was how it changed my choices, and even better, eliminated some that didn't really matter.

So how to approach a question, like, "Which text editor should I use?"

Well, I want something that can work in the terminal. I want something widespread and commonplace, so I can expect it on many computers. I want something that isn't too heavy or bloated, but works. I choice vi from this list. Though I will admit to using emacs from time to time, mostly for the glorious orgmode.

So, sure, we may not make the perfect choice, but the more we minimize it to something easy and simple, it's just a matter of using logic, eliminating options and not taking anything too seriously.


Here's my view on the connection of minimalism is complexity.

What is complexity, anyway? A high learning curve? Something my grandmother couldn't comprehend? (In that case, everything - including the VCR - is complex) Or something that gets in your way?

As with much of the English language, we're forced into subjective interpretation based on the context.

"Debian is more complex than Ubuntu." "Ubuntu is more complex than Debian."

Both of these are true to some degree, and false to some degree. It depends on the user. For me, Ubuntu has become more complex than Debian because it gets in my way when I'm digging about in the internals of the OS. But for a friend who doesn't like to OS dig, then the opposite is true.

Just because Debian allows me more freedom and requires more knowledge out of me doesn't make it more complex, I would argue, at least on the basis of how my productivity is altered. This is because it makes me more effective at getting things done. Debian makes my life less complex than Ubuntu does by being more complex from a common user's standpoint.

Here's that saying I continue to repeat like a broken record: subtraction isn't minimalism unless it's done for the sake of focus!

Let's look at something different. Say, one of my favorite albums, Amon Tobin's Supermodified. Very complex, deep, layered music, filled with sounds and words and genres. The album wouldn't be the same simplified. I can't even begin to try and parse some of the songs and make them less complex than they already are, because their complexity is what makes them so great. (Example song - odd visuals in the video, but good music)

In different aspects of life we value certain concepts differently, and in music or on, say, a book's plot, complexity can often be a good thing. This shows just how subjective and ever-changing these ideas become.

Oh and while I'm add it

Update on my OGG-ification of my musical life.

So, I started ripping CD's at Q1, which is roughly 80 kbps.

This was not a good idea. While the files sound absolutely fantastic at low volumes, at high volumes most music tends to sound like they're coming out of inferior speakers that cannot handle the music's whole "width," so to speak (deal with me - sound is very subjective).

With minor testing I've found this effect is minimal at Q2 (96kbps) and non-existent at Q3 (112kbps). I guess it's time to re-rip some of that stuff. Some of the music I'm just listening to briefly, for nostalgic purposes, so I'll probably leave that at Q1, but for the rest I think it's time to up the ante. OK Computer deserves more bits!

Music library size before upping the ante? Forty-five-ish albums at about 2.5 GB. A lot of that girth is from Kahvi and Jamendo, both of which, for reasons unknown to me, rip their OGG files at Q7 (224kbps). Well, it sounds great, at any rate.

Good OGG albums:

-Relics of the Chozo, an excellent ambient and moody remix of the Super Metroid soundtrack (considered by many to be one of the best game soundtracks of all time). Metroid music has always created a very distinctive alien world, and this album does it just as well as the game.

-Tom Bragl's Zerochoice, my favorite Kahvi release and probably my favorite electronic album. Also of note is his label-mate Polaski, whose Bendii Syndrome will lull you to into bliss faster than any cold medicine can push you to sleep.

-NanoWar's metal parody album, which had me in stitches, once I understood past the Italian accents. The great songwriting helps. Also on Jamendo, Revolution Void. Though I'm sure that K. Mandla has already recommended this artist far more than I ever could (and I assume you're reading him), it's worth your time.

EDIT: I forgot that I shrunk You look Nice Today's original MP3 archive from 1 GB of MP3 files to about 400 MB of Q0 OGG files (64kbps). Sounds fine.

Somewhere in the world, a lossless fan is crying.

EDIT 2: After some retooling, deleting and re-encoding (OK Computer was actually ripped at some obscene bitrate - like Q10) I managed to get the library down to 1.5 GB with better quality. 38 albums, some of them Kahvi EP's, most of them full length and wonderful.

I'm listening to Matchbox 20 again for the first time in years (I loved them when I was eleven). Such a great feeling.

"Tweet" of the day

Fresh idea:

"You already own it" is the biggest, most amazing feature of all time.

A week of OGG

I've decided that for the next week or two, I will listen to OGG Vorbis files exclusively. I'm allowing myself to convert other formats to OGG if needed (though I'll only do that if it's lossless).

Why switch to OGG Vorbis, even temporarily?

1) I learned that, when I am running Rockbox, my Sansa Clip+ gets about an extra hour of battery life when playing Vorbix files compared to MP3.

2) I still remember when I got my first MP3 player in 2004-ish and I was all excited because I was going to shrink my library down to 64kbps WMA files. And I did it, and it sounded terrible. I researched something better and have been using LAME encoded MP3 files ever since.

Well, I've done blind testing on myself, and apart from a few exceptions (notably Nightwish,my main guilty pleasure) I cannot tell the difference between the LAME MP3 with 256kbps and the OGG Vorbis with 80kbps. So there's a savings!

I've already converted about twenty CD's to OGG at various bitrate formats ranging from Q1 (80kbps) to Q5 (150 kbps) and I've only filled up about 1 GB. Albums usually weigh in at about 40 MB or less, and sound absolutely identical to me. So, wow.

3) This allows me to find out what I'm really going to miss from my MP3 collection. If I really like an album, I can buy the physical copy, which is probably a good idea anyway.

4) This allows me to hunt for music in new ways. I've already discovered some stuff on Jamendo, and I've barely begun!

5) Just to see if I can.

What are the problems I may run into?

-You Look Nice Today, my favorite podcast, only ships in MP3 format. However, considering that the files are only speech, I can't see how a trans-format would hurt the quality much. (Appending note: I was right!)

-A handful of albums (most notably Mr. Jigga's self titled album) are only available, at least to Americans, in AAC on iTunes, or MP3 format elsewhere. This is a common thing for netlabels, which is irritating.

Where will I be hunting for new music?

Free stuff: Jamendo, Kahvi Collective, the netlabels on the Internet Archive

Paid stuff: Physical CD's on Amazon (hooray for Amazon Prime!), Magnatune, Mindawn, etc.

Also, some of the albums I purchased digitally are at my local library in CD form (which is why I purchased many of them; I love that place's selection). So I might go and rip en-masse the stuff that I have. I'm considering it, anyhow.

For those interested, I'm doing my CD ripping on my desktop in Windows 7 (shocker), because as far as I'm aware there is no better CD ripper than Exact Audio Copy.

Planning for Debian

While my temporary Ubuntu installation is nice, I miss Debian a dreadful amount and plan on returning this afternoon.

Desktop: Debian Gnome

Browser(s): Firefox (w/ Adblock Plus, Ghostery and Flashblock), Epiphany, Links2

Music app: Decibel (my new favorite - a minimalist copy of Amarok's good old days)

Text: Gedit or vi

Video app: VLC

Various terminal things: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, axel, rtorrent, scrot

Necessary evils: Writer and Impress (or LibreOffice, whenever that becomes stable), GIMP

Public service announcement

Don't install the Fedora 14 beta right before a test that may or may not require Eclipse to develop an application. Yes, that's Minimal Linux, here to give you the most helpful tips in the free software realm!

Fedora's GRUB wouldn't boot Debian, and the OS in general was a general not-working pain in the ass. I nuked it all and installed the only thing lying around in my bag: Ubuntu 10.04.1 LTS, 64-bit (I don't even know how that got in there). I'll live in that while I plan my next move, which is shaping up to be Debian Testing with Gnome. I'm being cautious, though, because that beta scarred me for a while, but also because Ubuntu's vaguely nostalgic for me in a bizarre way that I can't explain, especially because it's on my desktop and has been for months.

Did you know that Ubuntu 10.04 has an OLD version of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, and Fedora doesn't have it at all, while Debian is totally updated and ready to rock? I don't even need to know why. It just solidifies my resolution to run the darn thing.


As a minimal Linux application tip for the day, I offer surf, on the (aggressively described) "suckless" galaxy of Unix-themed programs. Lightweight webkit-based web browsing, with a balance between the nimble Links2 and the actual, you know, web standards displaying features of Firefox or Chrome. I'll pass judgment when I get my house of cards in order.

"Forced into"

It's hard being a student sometimes from a minimalist perspective, especially on a campus that is technology integrated.

That sounds great in theory, until you realize that everyone does things a certain way, and it's not how you want it.

If I had my say, I'd turn in all of my essays via mail and they'd be plain text files. Death to printers! But I don't get my way. I have to type the document using a proprietary office suite (that never works and always messes up the basic formatting) and then print it using the campus' exclusive and not-open printing network (that never works and always messes up the basic formatting). This forces me to use programs and systems that I don't want to use, and I'm forced to do things that I can do on my own with a lot less inherent complexity.

Recent releases of Fedora and Ubuntu have been pretty compatible with said infrastructure, with minor hiccups here or there. It takes work to keep up with those evil little schemers in the IT department, who live to make my life a living hell (and it seems they do this to everyone else too - their installation image of Vista is stuff of legend as far as totally borking everything). But when it came to my lovely Fluxbox/Debian installation, I was out of luck! Even after installing all kinds of printing and wi-fi and office junk, it still didn't work. So I'm installing the Fedora 14 beta, to help with crushing bugs but also because Gnome is thankfully compatible with many of these moronic decisions.

I strongly dislike having to warp my internal principles just because some IT department jokester thinks it's funny to make their printing system proprietary. I cannot stand having to convert my files to docx because teachers won't accept anything else. The more they build their infrastructure around custom applications for Windows and Mac, the harder it is for me to keep my Linux installation in order. You would think that the Mac's growing popularity would have them embracing unix-like ideals, but you would be underestimating the stubborn nature of public higher education.

I look forward to the day when I don't have to deal with this and can pursue my own computing efforts.

Not getting things done

We're all about focus and "doing the dirty work" and all that jazz here at the minimal branded website ecosystem, right? Uhhhh, well, sure.

Of course we are
. Without a doubt.

I honestly don't have that much work to be done, but I just cannot seem to bring myself to do any of it. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup has eaten my free time like, well, stone soup. With a big pickaxe and a spoon. I don't regret this. I wouldn't be in college if I wasn't procrastinating.

It's a very simple game, mechanics wise, especially compared to its genre brothers Nethack or Zangband. That's probably why I like it so much. I discussed it on my gaming blog already, so I'll just copy, edit and slice off a little bit and paste for your pleasure.


Quick primer: there's a genre of RPG called a "roguelike" named such because they are like the old Unix game Rogue. Which I like. So I tend to like roguelikes. I can play them in class and it looks like I'm taking notes, because most of them only use the keyboard.

The genre's defining features (not all of these are essential) include randomly generated dungeons, a battle system where you walk into things to attack them, a higher difficulty than most RPG games, death that is comepletely permanant, and a movement system where every move the player makes is a global turn across the whole dungeon, so monsters and other NPCs will move about as well. Sometimes these games use ASCII graphics, though it's not required (see Shiren the Wanderer on the DS, or the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games for mainstream examples of the genre).

What sets DCSS apart from other RL's is a good balance of features. While Rogue itself is fairly simple and gets a little boring after an hour, games like Nethack were developed for literally decades and have such an unapproachable complexity that it's hard to get involved. You almost have to memorize trivia to remember all of the various ways your character can die.

DCSS is easier on that front, due to the developers not wanting their game to succumb to over-complexity. You only have to manage a few types of armor and your weapon, there's a limited amount of ridiculous interaction with objects, and the keyboard button layout seems pretty simple and obvious. Additionally, there's an excellent tutorial that walks you through how to do nearly everything in the game (and it, miraculously, doesn't take more than twenty minutes to finish).

The systems included are fun and easy to manage. The inventory is a snap to deal with, and the religion system is easy to understand and exploit. Some of these systems are actually the best thing the game has to a difficulty slider; different c1asses play a whole different game from one another, and some Gods are harder to pray to than others.

For example, Xom, the god of chaos, will only reward players who entertain him with random events in the dungeon that are generally out of the player's control. "You were paralyzed. Xom thinks this is hilarious!" And then Xom gives you a ring because he knows your glove is cursed and you won't be able to equip the ring. It's like 4chan was built into the game if you feel like the game has become too easy.

The tutorial and later extended tutorial (which gives you tips as you play through your first game) make the game easily approachable by newbies, and you can even play over telnet or ssh if you don't want to install the game on a computer. I found it handy to watch other, more experienced players on ssh to learn tactics and get the feel of the game flow. And, hey, that was kind of a neat novelty too, considering it uses next to no network speed to play.

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is free, open source software, released under a modified version of the GPL for nearly all platforms. It can run on any computer. You can play a graphical version or an ASCII graphics version (both of which were in Debian; not sure about other distros - search for just "crawl"). It's quickly making its way into my top ten games, as Minecraft did a couple of weeks ago. Go check it out if you get the chance.


There's this nifty little program called tpp for the Linux terminal, which turns a simple text file (with minimal syntax) into a full scale powerpoint-style presentation.

Make a new slide with --newpage texthere. Make a header with --heading texthere. Make blocks of text appear using --beginoutput and --endoutput.

I made a tiny script for commands with urxvt so that the font is bigger and prettier, using the Gentoo Wiki:

urxvt -name Terminal -fn "xft:Droid Sans:pixelsize=20" -fade 20 -depth 32 +sb -fg white -bg rgba:2000/2000/2000/dddd

And then I run tpp filename and tah dah, I have a better Powerpoint than anything the Powerpoint program could ever offer.

Now to work on getting an external monitor to display my text!


Also, the original version of my script above uses urxvtc instead, because if you stuff "urxvtd &" into your fluxbox startup file, and use the urxvtc command instead, you can get a daemon/client interaction that saves time and memory.

An interesting counter argument (and counter-counter argument)

Joel on Software discusses how Simplicity doesn't sell.

As I've said before, minimalism as a virtue should not be about deletion for the sake of deletion. Joel is right here. When I look at the new touchscreen iPod nano, with its lack of video support, I see a piece of hardware that is inferior to the iPod nano I own now. It's less powerful, has less features, does less things. It becomes a Swiss army knife with half of the tools removed. And while I pride myself on a minimalist outlook, I cannot say that removing those features was a great move on Apple's part.

Simplicity, like many things in life, need a motive behind them. A recursive definition doesn't work; simplicity is good because is simplistic is good? Nobody's going to listen to that.

Simplicity is good because it inspires focus. When (to paraphrase Joel here) 37signals makes their webpage with an HTML text block that everyone sees and calls it a web app, you're eliminating cruft that distracts from your mission. When the iPod deletes cumbersome menus and unimportant buttons, it's allowing the user to utilize the tool in a way that facilitates focus.

If the tool is more important than the task the tool is being used for, then the tool has failed. eBook readers should, in an ideal case, be completely transparent. You shouldn't even remember that you're reading something that isn't a book, because when you're reading a book you're not thinking, "Wow, THIS, this is the future of the world!" You're thinking about the plot and the characters and imagining the scene in your head. You're storing data on a new programming language or a historic battle in Waterloo.

The more features the eBook reader supports, the more the reader emphasizes itself, and this sets the reader up for failure. All anyone wants a reader to do is to display text in an efficient manner. I would side note and say that innovation in this department is good in moderation, and it's great that readers have cool features like RSS feeds and electronic voices that read to you, just because it's great when something becomes easier.

It's just important to remember why a tool exists in the first place. The reason why the new iPod nano was such a backwards revision is because it removed features, but it didn't help focus the user into what they were doing. The new menus and new size don't focus the user any more than the click-wheel concept does, and it removes genuinely useful tools the old versions had. The same goes for touch screen technology versus keyboard and mouse. The field of user interface may not be a plateau, but as far as touch screens are concerned, they're no more effective at immersing their user as any other sort of existing input technology, purely in the realm of focus. (They may actually be worse, because it gets the user's hands in the way of the screen)

Joel argues that software makes profit through features, and often that's true. While we know that most users don't use all of the options in a program, they all use a different subset of those features. What's important, I argue, is that these features never force themselves into a user's focus.

Sometimes deletion of a feature can increase focus. I'm pretty sure the majority of MS Word users would kill Clippy with a passionate vengeance if given the chance. But it is also true that features can increase focus as well, but only if they're implemented intelligently and with the virtue of simplicity. And not the recursive kind.

Most programmers will understand how important concentration really is; if you break that running water, you might as well be throwing productivity out the window. If, say, Eclipse were to pop up with a dialog box every few minutes asking the user what kind of class they were making, and what kind of outline they needed, and how the variables should be organized, nobody would use it. The flow of productivity is so important that if you break it even once the user will be cursing you all the way down to the inky bottom of the sea floor. You'd have dozens of posts on the internet about how IDE's are awful and how only real programmers use text editors, and to be honest they would be right, at least in this nightmare scenario.

So I agree with Joel that features matter. Even from an advertising perspective, it seems that most users are moved by shiny new gadgets and gizmos; sure, someone like me doesn't really upgrade his hardware all that much, but I'm certainly not a majority. But I disagree that simplicity is a fool's hope. It's a matter of keeping in mind the ideology of focus.

How I did it: Pictures as proof

Just in case someone doubts my incredible skill at using the incredible
Debian distribution to make an incredibly minimal desktop. Note how conky is still not configured and functioning properly. Oh my embarrassment!

Pictures taken with the handy (and apparent subscriber to the "One Thing Well" rule of programs) terminal tool Scrot, which is just a mere "scrot filename.jpg" in the command line.

How I did it: Volume 2

More of the same! It's a feature.

So better fonts, eh? First I downloaded Droid Sans and put I put them in a new folder called .fonts in my home folder. Then I made a new text file in my home folder titled .fonts.conf like this website told me. (I'd copy the text and post it here, but it all disappears in Blogspot).

Then I ran the following command as root.

dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig-config dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig

And I answered the questions. Fonts became crisper and prettier.

Then I installed a package called gtk-chtheme. Then I ran a command: fc-cache -fv and then ran the program, which allowed me to change the fonts for GTK stuff (and the GTK theme in a minute).

Then I went to and found a nice theme for Fluxbox called Dyne, which had a matching wallpaper and GTK theme. I downloaded them all and put them in their respective folders (user/.fluxbox/styles for the fluxbox theme and user/.themes for the GTK theme).

Then I flipped to the Fluxbox theme in the Fluxbox menu, and said, "Wowzer these fonts are small!" so I opened up the theme's conf file and scrolled to the bottom and changed it to Droid Sans with a size of 10. And then I used the GTK theme switcher to switch to the Dyne GTK theme. And THEN I made my Conky use Droid Sans too, just to make it all match.

Then I opened up that file /.fluxbox/startup and added the line:

fbsetbg -f /foo

Where foo was the path to my new wallpaper, which for simplicity's sake I put in Fluxbox's backgrounds folder. I didn't add the ampersand because it's only running once.

I'm still using this desktop now and it's amazingly beautiful. If I was a Mac fanboy I'd make out with my computer. Or something. What?

Then I plugged in my portable hard drive, looked inside of /dev (where your drives appear as files to be accessed), and found that sdb1 was probably the most likely candidate. So then I turned into root and ran this:

mkdir /mnt/drive
mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/drive

And the drive was then mine. Three cheers and rejoicing! The same thing worked fine with my Sansa Clip+, abet with sdc1 and sdd1 as the drive file. I transfered all of my files over. Music time.

I started up Audacious and tried an MP3 file, with success. But it was quiet. So I installed the package alsa-utils, ran the command alsamixer, and turned up the volume to max in the headphones and the speaker. Then the volume worked fine.

I did some things that I don't remember and made cpufreqd run. I'm pretty sure I installed the package and ran modprobe apci-cpufreqd, and did this stuff. Maybe.

Then I installed Java in Synaptic and played Minecraft.

To do list for volume 3:
-Get Conky to output more useful information
-Install Eclipse (should be an uneventful install)
-Does a second monitor work? Make it happen.
-Play Minecraft

How I did it: Volume 1

Or more accurately, how to make a minimalist Fluxbox installation using Debian 6.0 (which is currently in testing).

I don't have all of the kinks sorted yet, which is why this is Volume 1. In addition, this is just how I did it; part of minimalism is that your perfect desktop is not my perfect desktop. It's about what we find important is individuals.

So, first off, make a mental or physical list of the stuff you'll need. Mine for example: Firefox, some sort of Wi-fi manager, a graphical file manager, links2 (web browser), nethack, some sort of image viewer (I like mirage), (for school), Synaptic and some sort of music player. If you're not sure what you want, do research and find out now rather than later. Google what you're looking for with the words "linux" and "fluxbox " on the end.

So, go ahead over to and get a recent Debian Testing CD (link). You could make do with the net one if you wanted to, but that disc downloads everything it doesn't have, which is all of it. Still, it keeps your installation current.

I was on a laptop, so I plugged into power and ethernet and booted from the CD. The installation is straightforward; just make sure that when you get to the package selection, deselect the "desktop environment" check box (that box gives you Gnome, aka what Ubuntu has).

You should boot to a command line. You can log in as your user and then type su, and then your root password. Then:

apt-get install xorg fluxbox

Which installs the X graphical system and Fluxbox, our Window Manager. And anything you're going to want as well.

apt-get install nethack-console links2 pcmanfm file-roller axel audacious2 wicd mirage xpdfview conky-all synaptic leafpad rxvt-unicode

And let it run. Then become your user and use a text editor to make a file called .xinitrc in your home folder.

nano .xinitrc

Add the line exec startfluxbox to the file, save and quit.

Then type startx and see if X runs. It should, and you should get a Fluxbox desktop.

If you're like me and you have a laptop, the next priority is making wi-fi work. I like Wicd as a client for this, which I already installed. The daemon starts up automatically, but the client does not. Run it by typing wicd-client into a terminal.

If your wireless is not detected automatically, you will need a driver or extra software package. The best way to do this, I've found, is to use a Linux Live CD that your Wi-fi card is definitely working on, right click on Network Manager, and find out what driver it's running. Go back to your Fluxbox, crank out Synaptic, and search for that driver. Install and voila.

(Note: I had to add "wlan0" to the wireless connection box in wcid to get this to work. Your results may vary.)

To make Wicd start up when your Fluxbox starts, go into your home directory, find the .fluxbox folder (the period indicates that it's hidden - get your file manager to reveal all), and open up the startup file in a text editor. As the file indicates, add the command you want to execute followed by a space and an ampersand (&). "wicd-client &" would be a good line to add before the final line. I also added conky here because that was my next step.

I made a file in my home directory called .conkyrc and opened it up. I used these examples and example configuration files to make a nice looking conky with a little bit of information.

Then I used Synaptic to install my nVidia drivers. I used the normal nvidia-glx package, along with nvidia-settings and nvidia-xconfig. When the computer rebooted, I ran nvidia-xconfig, rebooted and then nivida-settings to make sure the driver was working properly.

Then I used links2 in the console, navigated to the Firefox website, downloaded it, and used file roller to decompress it (I could have used the console, but I'm lazy). Then I put it in a programs folder, ran it and set my bookmarks, and then went back into .fluxbox.

There's a text file called menu that detects the layout of the right click Fluxbox menu. This is a good tutorial on how to make menus work in Fluxbox. I made a line that said "[exec] (Firefox) {/home/user/Programs/firefox/firefox}" and it worked fine.

Then I installed Adblock Plus, Ghostery and Flashblock to Firefox, and that's where I am today.

To do list for volume 2: (Checks added in edit)
-better fonts (check)
-wallpaper (check)
-prettier Fluxbox and GTK2+ theme (check)
-mounting things (like my external hard drive) (check)
-does my sound work? I don't actually know. (yes it does, check)
-play with conky some more
-get cpufreq under control so that the fans stop whirring