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

And there was much rejoicing

I got my old crappy laptop back. I'm in the process of configuring Debian 6.0 to run on it.

With Fluxbox! Yes, we're on our merry way. I've been using Firefox (with working wi-fi, mind you!) for a couple of hours and not once did the RAM usage break 256 MB.

I'll post a tutorial and a couple of vague notes on how I did it later, because we all know that nothing attracts the ladies more. (And also because I'm bound to forget how I did it.)

Deja Dup

Last night I mentioend backing up things, and I need to reiterate that point. BACK IT ALL UP.

Fedora introduced me to a small backup utility called Deja Dup. As far as I can tell, it takes a lot of inspiration from Time Machine in OS X (which was, admittedly, a great idea to begin with), but has a few extra features including off-site backup.

Give it a go and see if that's your kind of back-up tool.

How far does my minimalism go?

Title is the question I have started asking myself ever since the Mac crashed through my front window (not literally). I had a good night's sleep on my last blog and while I'm not especially angry (I never get angry, really) I'm still a little bit unsure about the future.

Really, what does make me happy? What keeps me getting up every morning? And how far am I going to take my minimalism?

I can tell you the answer to that, at least. It's my friends, and it's my sense of academic adventure. Gosh that sounds cheesy, so let me rephrase that: It's how the world has so much for me to explore and try and do, and I want to go chase these opportunities down and go for it. I have limited abilities to do this, with classes and work budging in occasionally (and these are certainly not optional) but it's a balance that allows me to live my life without any regrets of the past day.

Okay, that paragraph just helped me.

Here are some more reasons why I love Linux!

I imagine that Linux is a large swimming pool. It's clean and it's fun, but it's pretty deep even in the shallow end. I swim a little and there's always something more, something new and deeper to explore. I choose my own pace.

Mac OS X is a large facility that I've heard a lot about, so I walk in and it's huge and gorgeous and fancy, and there are representatives of the company there to help me. They guide me through more wonderous and amazing corridors to, finally, a shallow basin where they tell me to lie down on my back. And then about four inches of water fills the basin. It's very warm and nice, but it doesn't cover my whole body, and I don't feel quite satisfied as I walk out, even though there are a ton of people around me jabbering away at how nice the facility is and how it's so much better than the swimming pool at the gym.

Being minimal is not just removing things for the sake of removing things. It's to make your life simpler, easier, and less complicated, so that you can focus your attention on what matters the most. When it comes to computing, I fully realize that my four years of Linux use has warped me beyond repair. I miss the endless exploration and learning curve. I miss being left to my own device; to not being treated like a fool or worse by the UI.

I'm going to go see if I can get my old laptop back. If I can, this will be a new stage on my minimalism. I have some plans, which I will document here later. Thanks for reading.

I'll just leave this here.

Boot race.

Found thanks to K Mandla.

Lets put it on the table.

So, at my campus all students have to rent a laptop for the semester. This is a forced thing for all full-time students, and it irritates me to no end (largely because the purported tech support that we're paying for is a joke, as predicted), but I grit my teeth and I rented the PC laptop, a Toshiba Tecra R10. The other choice was a Macbook.

This, in retrospect, was the wrong choice. The shoddy worksmanship and poor build have caused me numerous headaches, forcing me to bring in the laptop time and time again, and they just hand me a new one, saying, "Oh, this one will work better."

The software was fine, once I nuked Windows Vista from orbit (it's the only way we can be sure) and installed Fedora in its place. No, that's not the problem. Unreliable components is my main beef. The Wi-fi card goes out regularly. The volume wheel sometimes doesn't work, and on and on.

When offered the chance to switch to a Macbook, I took it. If I have to keep repaying this $500 fee, I'm going to get myself a laptop that wasn't made by flying monkeys.

So, as of Wednesday, my main computer will be a Mac. I will still have the desktop around for Linux, so this blog is not going anywhere, but I just want to be frank and honest. If I don't particularily like OSX (I doubt it, but you never know) I've got Debian Testing CD's everywhere, and if I've learned something it's that a desktop with Debian Testing on it never goes out of style.

Hopefully this experience will give me new insight into how to make a truly portable computer household. Until then, we'll just have to wait and see what the future holds.


Two thumbs up for the Helios project blog, who, when I showed him my blog on Gamespot about Amnesia: the Dark Descent, gave me a free code and download to the game. Great game, great blog, great project.


For those of you running Gnome: install Epiphany and try it for a few hours. It's worth your time. It's small, fast as blazes, and works with a lot of websites I expected it to fall apart with.

(I unfortunately haven't used KDE for at least a year or two, so I cannot recommend anything in that camp.)

The Perception of Free

Take a look at this movie. Actually, go download it and watch the whole thing. It's funny, smart, charming, and beautiful. And it's free? Yes.

I've often run into this perception with the people around me that if something is free, it's not really worth their time. Well, in the regular world, with physical objects, that's often true. Those little staplers and pens they hand out with the company's logo on it? Not really that great. So it makes sense that free has a stigma.

But it's hard for me sometimes. True story about to follow. I'm about 95% sure that she was actually interested in my computer and not just randomly talking to me or flirting, but you never know (this is a Linux blog, after all).

Her: Hey, what's that on your computer?

Me: Firefox.

Her: No, I mean the screen looks different than the rest of the PC's. It looks like a Mac.

Me: Oh, I'm not running Windows. I'm running Linux instead.

Her: What's that?

Me: It's a system that can be run on lots of computers easily, it doesn't get viruses and there's lots of programs to run on it. It's pretty simple to use, as long as someone sets it up for you. I've done that for people before.

Her: Wow, that sounds pretty cool.

Me: There are lots of different types of Linux, and they're all free and you can download and try them.

Her: They're free?

Me: Yes.

At this point she gave me a puzzled look and turned away from our conversation (which wasn't as rude as it sounded, given the circumstances). I found it interesting that free just flipped a switch and made her devalue the product that much more. It's like free automatically meant it wasn't really worth her time.

I've been having problems with Site Sings the Blues as well. I describe the movie, people get interested, and then, "it's free, go download it," and they stop caring. (The immense irony is that my friends are huge on the piracy front, so they're getting a lot of movies for free to begin with)

You can name dozens of examples. Jamendo. Almost anything on the Internet Archive. Free video games like Nexuiz or Battle for Wesnoth. A lack of price somehow invalidates the quality, even if it's a great product and better than its competitors.

What a curious phenomenon.

Ubuntu's path

10.04 LTS was a warning sign to me. The beta for 10.10 is simply more of the same.

Ubuntu has gone down a path that I can no longer classify as minimalist. Their desire for "social interaction" and integration of such has made their LiveCD about 50% made up of things I simply don't need (as opposed to Fedora, who can barely fit everything on their disc).

Three viable options:

-Use Ubuntu from the alternative disc, install a minimal version, and build from the ground up. This is nice, except that if I'm going to do that work I might as well use Debian.

-Install Ubuntu and uninstall half of the programs (Ubuntu One, that Twitter thing, the Ubuntu music store, etc). This still leaves a lot of libraries sitting around, unused.

-Use Debian.

What I find interesting is that the Debian 6.0 testing release most reminds me, not of Debian 5.0 or 4.0 (though it does, of course), but of Ubuntu 8.04, which I still consider a desktop unmatched anywhere else in the Linux world. If it worked with my Wi-fi I'd be using it. But alas.

But Ubuntu used to fight bloat, and make a polished desktop that didn't have all that social junk and ugly desktop design running. It used to be a tweaked Gnome desktop designed for usability and customization, and it ran well and looked great and simple. Since then the Ubuntu desktop has become large, bloated and slow. Heck, the desktop became a Mac OS X rip-off with a fat pimple. This is a serious shame for me, because I liked the path Ubuntu had chosen with 8.04.

I'm not blaming Ubuntu, I'm only shaking my head at how my priorities no longer match up with Ubuntu. But it's certainly healthy to realize this, and to move on to something that works for my needs (like Debian).

I'm also not saying that if you use Ubuntu, you're not minimalist. Of course you can be, with effort. Maybe your definition of minimalism is what Ubuntu offers out of the box. I'm just talking about myself here.


If you play video games at all. try out Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It works in Linux, costs $20, and is designed to be minimal yet affecting. I tried the demo and nearly pooped my pants it was so scary.

Debian 6.0

I tried Debian testing today.

I installed everything on the first CD and it gave me Gnome, Iceweasel, Epiphany (which is really awesome), Evolution, Ekiga, GIMP, Transmission, Empathy,, Cheese, Brasero, Rhythmbox, Totem, Lifera, Transmission, and a couple dozen more programs.

I had fun uninstalling many of them. Synaptic was also included, so it was a piece of cake.

My laptop uses iwlagn as its Wi-fi driver, so I searched for it in Synaptic and installed the suggested package. I rebooted and Wi-fi worked, for the first time on a Debian OS for me.

I copied over the fonts folder from Fedora and my fonts became mostly pretty. I downloaded Firefox so that I wasn't using Iceweasel, just because I'm odd that way. I downloaded the nVidia drivers and they worked out of the box.

It's fast and light. It's easy to configure.

Ten out of five stars.


Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction.

Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus.

If it doesn't help you focus, or make you more productive, or do more of what you want to do, then it is failed subtraction. It is not minimalism, because at the core of minimalism is the idea that you want to get to somewhere better than you are now.


I've touched on Vintage Computing. Twice, actually.

This is a good theory. Now how do we turn this theory into a literal set of instructions and ideas for getting and using computers? What do we need to think about?

1) Think about what your needs are.

If you need a Mac, buy a Mac. I'm serious. There's no point in buying a cheap old desktop for Linux when you need things from OSX, and trying to struggle through and make do with what you have.

However, if your needs are adaptable, then think about which distro you need, and make standards so that you know what you're aiming for.

Are you only comfortable with Ubuntu? Unless you're using an older version of Ubuntu (eg. before 8.04), you're probably going to need a more powerful computer.. Ubuntu can run on any processor past 2003 without issues, but you might want to make sure you can get your hands on at least 512 MB RAM before grabbing that old laptop off of the thrift store shelf.

On the other hand, if you're content with a Debian with Fluxbox or console, maybe you don't need quite that much RAM, and could get by with 256 MB RAM. Just think about what you use your computer for. Firefox? Flash? Video? Pictures? Music? These things require a processor that's a little bit newer than a 2002 Celeron. Maybe you could do it if you learned a bit more about the console. Are you willing?

Remember, while we're all about the re-use of old computers here, we're also about minimalism. There's no need to get a computer if you're not going to be able to use it fully.

2) Consider the situation you're in right now.

Remember that whenever you're comparing items to what you already have, the sutff you already have has a huge home-field advantage. You already know it well. It costs you nothing to keep using it. It has no environmental impact past the initial creation.

Are you looking for something that will make you more productive? How? In what ways? Quantify these allegations. Assume that your current position is the greatest computing platform known to mankind (because it is). How does this thing help you?

3) If you already have a computer, find a way to pass it on in a healthy way. If you can grab it and give it to family in need, go for it. Customize a Linux install and give it to a family member or school. throw it on Craigslist or even give it to a neighbourhood kid, give him an Ubuntu disk and tell him to explore it.

If you have old gadgets, get rid of those too. Apple takes old cell phones and iPods, and most old computers (sometimes giving you gift cards for the pleasure). Best Buy will recycle all old stuff bought from their store. And so on.

4) Hunt. But hunt with standards. Remember what you thought about in Step 1.

"Just Don't Do It"

You can talk to an extremist for any platform, and you can bring up a deficiency for that platform, and the answer you will get will be one of the following:

"Well, why would you want to do that anyway?"


"Just don't do that if it stinks."

Illustrating the point would be Apple's continued lack of support and love for mobile Flash. Any time someone says, "I need Flash on iPad," an extremist will say, "Well, Flash really isn't that great, use HTML5 instead."

Are they right? Yes. Flash is awful. But it's indicative of a lack of willingness to see things as flaws rather than a lack of things we don't want.

Step one to dealing with your platforms flaws is crucial: admit that those flaws exist. Yes, Flash on Mac OS X and Linux isn't very good. Yes, there is no Flash for iOS, and that limits some of the web that you can experience. Often there is no substitute for Flash.

This is a flaw. There is no denying that. Don't dodge the issue by trying to say, "Oh, but you didn't want that anyway." Yeah, I did. It's an issue. Let's deal with it.

Step 2. This is where we can deal with the flaws and say, "Okay, there's no Flash here. What can I do instead." HTML5 is good but still unsupported in most browsers. Or even better: what is it we are trying to do on the web that requires Flash in the first place? Would we be better served with static images or a simple video file that we download and watch in VLC?

Yes, we can get around the issue of Flash in Linux and OSX. But never forget that it is a flaw and we need to deal with it.

Linux cannot run Photoshop. This is a flaw for many people.

Linux does not have a good, standard tutorial website or system for new people to learn Linux. This is a flaw.

OSX cannot be run on anything but Macs, thanks to its EULA. This is a flaw. Windows (after XP) has remote activation DRM. This is a flaw.

Now, what do we say about these things?

"Yes, it is a flaw that Photoshop doesn't run in Linux. However, some versions run in Wine, and the GIMP is a good subsitute for people who use a limited set of its features. If this is not good enough, perhaps Linux is not for you."

Intelligent people will understand that even the things they hold most dear to their heart, and the tools they swear by forever, will have flaws, and they will accept that and move on. Someone who cannot see the flaws is an extremist and cannot not be reasoned with.