In my last blogpost I had been pondering the idea of a « Lightphone » where I was specifically looking for a phone that would allow me to consume podcasts, navigate and communicate if needed.
One of the reasons the Unihertz Titan jumped out at me was because of its rugged interface and the fact that it would be pretty awesome to use as a « terminal » instead of a phone, allowing me to interact with the various command line applications I have. I thought it would be cool to use it to SSH into my home server and use all my « low distraction » apps.
I decided to « try before I buy » and not start throwing out cash and getting yet « another » device, but instead see if I could pull it off with the gear that I have.
I went for a « copy paste » of the way I SSH into my Linux machine at home on my iPad. Using the SSHelfish app you can predefine connections, execute commands upon connections etc. Basically it slides you into your terminal session with one tap on the screen. I installed it on my iPhone (the payed version of the app is worth it » and took it out for a spin.
Hacking at the hairdressers
Waiting at the hairdressers was the perfect opportunity. Instead of scrolling through the « apps » on my phone, I « logged in » to my home server and picked up the Terminal session I had open. Using Tmux I flipped between the different apps I have open (Toot for Mastodon, Tuir for Reddit, Discordo for Discord and Newsboat for RSS) and puttered along. My hairdresser was getting a little worried since the stuff he saw on my screen reminded him more of a hacker doing his thing, than an average joe scrolling Insta.
It’s harder to use, so its easier to focus
My first impressions on this way of working were mixed. The fact you have to « connect » makes it more « intentional » to « check your socials » than by just using the apps on your phone. You are less prone to getting sucked it because it takes more focus to navigate. There are no pretty pictures to « entertain » you and keep you scrolling from one dopamine hit to the other and, because of the small screen, you only have one app open at a time.
This has an upside. Because its a more focused interface, you don’t tend to scroll aimlessly. The downside is that there is no way to (easily) watch or upload media, like pictures in your Toots or posts, for that you still need the apps. As a workaround I still keep the Discord and Mastodon apps on my phone, but just not on my homescreen.
This is of course all just an experiment but my first impressions are pretty interesting. It’s a different way to interact with my « social feeds » that makes them a little less « distracting » and make me feel more « in the moment » when i’m using them. Another small step towards intentional computing I guess.
The app : Shellfish (ios)
There are 2 kinds of phones: The Smartphone, those highly addictive pieces of glass we carry around in our pocket, that keep us glued to the screen and are the source of many hours of entertainment, games, text messages, videocalls and more ( oh yeah, and sometimes people actually « call » you ) and the « Dumbphones », classic communication devices with numeric keyboards that are mostly geared towards « calling » people and where typing out a text message requires a certain amount of patience and muscle memory that if you want to learn how to do it, you need to look for any cave paintings in the area that depict this.
Those Smartphones are highly addictive. We spend hours scrolling the net and social media sites, and this has led many to re-think the way we interact with these devices. We do not control them, it is like they control US. Rows of « phone zombies » on the train or waiting in line can attest to it. That is why the #nosurf movement (who wants to re-capture the moment by stepping away from your phone) goes towards a dumbphone. A silly flip-phone in your pocket that is so boring, you only use it to call 911 when you are on the brink of bleeding out.
But what if you realise that having a « dumb-phone » just does not fit your connected lifestyle anymore. A lot of the services we use today require an internet connection (Music, Gps etc), the same internet connection that pumps social media sludge into our brain like its Soylent green. So isn’t there an in-between? A device that allows us to « connect » without becoming an attention-sinkhole? I went on a quest to find out.
Immediately I was drawn towards the Unihertz Titan and Titan Pocket. These devices remind me strongly of my Blackberry. A small, rugged and portable device that was ideal for communicating but sucked at webbrowsing or doing any of the internet stuff with a high-visual-octane. The smaller screen and the handy keyboard is very alluring. But the size of the Titan (the pocket is smaller but also has a smaller keyboard) and the poor android support (Android 11 on the Pocket, 10 on the Titan) might speak against them on the long run.
Another weird little device on the Unihertz website is the Jelly. A 3 inch android smartphone that is so tiny, you wouldn’t even WANT to surf on it for hours on end. One way to still be connected without suffering from a screen addiction is to downsize the screen? The downside is that using this device for any kind of GPS would require reading glasses with a high perscription
Neuter your Smartphone
The last alternative of course is to « dumb down » your existing phone. By restricting apps and access it is perfectly possible to « scale down » the digital possibilities of your phone to give you JUST the the things you need. This does require a fair share of self discipline because you can easily « switch your phone back to full addictive mode » at the press of a button.
Not quite there yet.
Looking to make your Phone less addictive and more ‘productive’ is more of a thought exercise. I’ve started to figure out it is less about the hardware and more about the things we want to DO with it. Having addictive apps on your phone is a matter of what apps you allow, not what your phone can (or cannot do). I’ve recently moved things like Vinted (I can search for Retro Transformers for hours on end) to my iPad and haven’t used it since. So maybe the same can go for other apps. I need to re-baseline the smartphone I have and determine what I want it to do for me. And if that answer differs in different situations, then maybe I need to start using different profiles and settings to « transform » that black slab into something that does what I need it to do at that moment.
It all comes down to you
In the end? It all comes down to us, the user. We decide how we spend the « attention calories » of our day. Scrolling aimlessly on 9gag or writing up a blogpost that goes around the world in 50 minutes. That is up to us. Our devices enable us to do a great many things, but the way to fight the attention economy might not be with MORE hardware, but with a re-thought approach on how we want to use the technology we already have. So let’s veer away from the umph-teenth Youtube video on some new gadget, keep the money in our pocket and start thinking like like « smart » geeks.
Whenever you think Knightwise.com the tagline must somehow stil ring in your head « On the edge of real and Cyberspace ». And with « the edge » I don’t always mean the latest, newest or hippest techno hype that is going around. It shouldn’t always deal with the arrowhead of digital progress, it might also be « The Fringe ».
Having ridden the crest of the WEB 2.0 and Social Media revolution, witnessed the rise of the cloud and the dawn of big tech, I sometimes find myself in a world where everything feels « mainstream », where everybody is using the same tech, has the same phone and does the same things on the same platforms. Where the excitement has petered off and the internet has become « boring ».
Looking for an edge
So I look for new « edges » to discover. Fringe technologies and platforms that hardly anybody knows. Places that are of the beaten path about to break new ground or fizzle into nothingness.
And opposed to the hords of streamers and podcasters that want to « make it big » and pull in huge numbers and make the big bucks, I’m loving the small engaged community of readers, listeners and contributeurs I have today. I’m not looking for a stage, I’m looking for a campfire.
Maybe it’s misplaced nostalgia, looking for a tech-scene that wasn’t so mainstream. Where you don’t hear about everybody and their dog spouting an opinion over AI … Where you mention some term of tech and people say « What the hell is that ».
So let’s discover that edge together: Throw up your suggestions for some app, tech or platform that nobody knows about and hardly anyone follows. Something new, nerdy and plain weird, because .. we like that kind of stuff. Because there is nothing more exiting then … Living on the edge.
I love a good paranormal incident, I love history AND I love retro computers. Would there be anything out there that would combine all these three interests? Funny you should ask because .. There is.
The Dodleston Messages (also referred to as The Dodleston Files) is a bizarre series of paranormal events that involve an economics teacher and his girlfriend, a small cottage in the English countryside and a BBC Micro computer that is operated by him, somebody from the past AND somebody from the future.
It sounds bizarre but it makes for a fascinating story where « emails » (or text files) appear out of nowhere on an (unattended) BBC Micro computer, accessible (throughout time) to all three parties. What follows is a strange but interesting back-and-forth between all three « timezones » with some interesting twists.
Spam from the past man!
This day and age you would think « worm » or « mallware » when stuff starts to appear on your computer without you doing anything about it. But this is the 80’s and the BBC Micro is in no way connected to the internet because it doesn’t exist yet. The messages just « show up ».
Moving chairs and stacking cans
Along with the digital correspondance there is also some good old « analogue » paranormal activity with furniture being rearranged, things written on the wall and cans being stacked. But the paranormal entity is far from an evil poltergeist. He is a well mannered softspoken gentlemen called Thomas Harden who compliments Ken on his nice girlfriend ( What a fine woman thou hast) and his house full of cool gadgets (one of them being the ‘looms of light’, his wording for the BBC Micro computer as it manifests itself in his time).
Read it straight from the horse’s mouth
The ‘Dodleston Messages’ have been covered on many blog, website, Youtube video and even on a BBC documentary, but the best source is possibly Kens own book ‘The Vertical Plane’ where he describes the whole story in detail, including the transcripts from every message sent by ‘Thomas’ and the mysterious entities in 2109 . The book is hardly obtainable anymore in print form Here is the Amazon Link but you can also have a look over at (cough) Anna’s Archive but just don’t tell anyone.
Do YOU use a VPN? It’s a question you hear a lot from time to time. VPN’s used to be for people who wanted to tunnel back to the office to access a boring spreadsheet on some slow fileserver or print their daughters birthday invitations on the company dime. It used to be about tunneling « in ».
These days most people use a VPN to tunnel « out » of somewhere. Vpn’s have become commercialised services with beacons somewhere in the cloud where we all connect to. Promising us privacy and anonymity from whatever snoops might prowl the network we connected to. But what do we have to hide, who do we hide it from and who do we share it with?
So where do I use a VPN
Well, that all depends. Whenever I need to connect to a « foreign network » I consider using a vpn tunnel. And with « a foreign network » I mean one where I don’t have the admin password of the wifi router.
Public Wifi’s are like public urinals
A shared wifi hotspot in a coffee shop (which I seldom use anymore) is a place where I definitely try to use a VPN to obscure my traffic. Although I have to say that I’m more worried about some hipsters malware infested Windows 7 machine giving my machine computer-gonorrhea across the local wifi network. I feel like i’m putting my donut on a urinal so… Shields up.
Corporate IT networks with Nosy neighbours
Ah, those sweet networks managed by overzealous IT staff at corporate offices. I DON’T TRUST THEM. If I have to hop « on their network » to do my thing, I am always careful to make sure my outgoing traffic is obscured. All of it. I don’t feel making my network traffic the passe-de-temps of some 20 something junior IT sysadmin who loves nothing more than snooping logs (or get those logs thrown in my face as part of a shitstorm during a payment issue with a client). No way.
So who do we trust ?
Well, that is a hard one isn’t it. I’ll never go for one of those commercial-but-free services that they offer. The business model here is that they sell off your traffic to advertising agencies. (When you don’t pay you aren’t the client, you are the product). But the « payed » services are kinda the same. Sure NordVpn has quite a good reputation but … in the end i’ll trust my own home network and tunnel out from there via my ISP .. just like with all my other traffic.
So I take the Space SSHuttle
There are a couple of VPN services you can self host. They give you the added joy of connecting to your home network. I’m an avid user of Tailscale to interconnect my devices over the internet (Check out the podcast episode I did on that), but when I want to tunnel ALL my traffic including my DNS queries I resort to using SSHuttle and use a machine running Tailscale at home as an endpoint. Yeah I know, that’s double encapsulation and that might give me some slower speeds, but what do I care .. the guest networks i’m on have money to burn.
Trust no-one. Very true. But its not practical to set yourself up like Edward Snowden and only use your computer with Tails and Tor and hiding under a blanket (tried it, it gets very hot). At some point you have to trust somebody. In my case I draw the line at my ISP because thats where for me security and practicality balance out. At least I don’t have Hipsters licking my firewall or IT-Wanna-Be-Snoops snickering at my URL traffic.
A rainy day on holiday secluded in a tiny village in the Jura mountains in France is the ideal place to pucker around with applications that don’t require a lot of bandwidth. Why? Because I have one bar on my 4G connection and i’m a huge nerd with love for command line applications.
So time to slap another app to the collection of command line apps I have running: Time for ‘TooT’: A TUI (Text User Interface) based client for Mastodon. It’s slick, simple and fast and I can access it from anywhere. All I need is a terminal connection to my home server and I’m good to go.
So why the crap do I go for TUI apps in the modern day? Easy: They are distraction free. You don’t end up scrolling for hours watching silly cat pictures or selfies of wannabe Instagram Models. Its a bit more basic. I do the same with Reddit (using TUIR), RSS (Newsbeuter), Discord (Discordo) and Irc (Irssi). It’s faster to work with (mostly), less addictive (slightly) and most importantly: you look like a Hacker 🙂
The year is 2023 and I am looking back at (almost) 23 years of « Knightwise.com ». What started out as a humble personal website borked together in Frontpage Express (later Dreamweaver) has roamed the net in many forms since. From a silly static website, to a Livejournal blog, later a Blogger Blog and finally in the form you see today: An autonomously hosted WordPress instance with Podcast episodes hosted on Archive.org. Knightwise.com stands (With the help of the wonderful @moonenmoonen and @kdmurray) independent of any of the major platforms.
Standing on our own two feet.
Why is that so important? That has become more and more obvious the last couple of years. We have seen the rise of many trends and platforms over the years. The dawn of podcasting, the coming (and going) of web 2.0 sites like Digg, The first wobbly steps of Facebook, Youtube, Google+ and so on. And we have followed many of those trends (perhaps giving some a little too much energy in comparison). But at the end of the day, the « core » of the Knightwise.com content could always be found HERE, independent and unmanaged by any « big platform ».
Just look around Twitter is fighting to keep it’s users interested in the toddler-ruled add-riddled hate-fountain it has become while Reddit heads to the battlefield against some of it’s most loyal moderators over costs for external API’s. The writing is on the wall : Those « big » and « free » platforms we have all been using carelessly are under increased pressure to push adds and make money. And today that means not only letting their users frolic around while gathering their data, it also means making hard and unpopular choices because those « free » platforms are not free at all. The price we pay is not only the attention and the data we give them, but also a slice of our freedom.`
So maybe it’s time to look back
So how was it again BEFORE those big platforms came along? How did we EVER manage to survive. Well in essence .. everything was doing their own thing. Hosting their own website, running their own forum, doing their own thing. I’m too young to remember BBS’s but DO remember having to « choose » between different IRC Services to find my posse (and my channels) .. to browse « different » forums to get an answer .. It wasn’t easy, but we weren’t completely dependant on just one major corporation.
Let’s blow up the internet!
Because if we want to keep using the internet like it is supposed to, as a network where information can flow regardless of the fall of one of it’s many networking nodes, then we also should be able to steer clear of becoming too dependant on these massive platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, TikTok and the like to spread our message and communicate. Sure the are THE place to go when you want to get noticed but as a content creator you are completely dependant of their policy. In order to rescue our ability to create, communicate, share and interact our ideas and thoughts .. We need to re-fragment our content. In short: Blow up the net.
Don’t mind the hippie in the corner.
Am I starting to sound stark-raving mad? Do you smell weed and picture dancing lava lamps as you think of me? It might all sound a little shangry-la but, I have always ventured to keep you independent of brands, vendors and eco-systems. So here is the next level of being a cross-platform geek.
Becoming a cross-platform geek.
So what if « the platforms » we have talked about on this website go beyond the « hardware » and the « software » ones. What if they start to point towards the big information platforms where we store and share information. How about becoming « cross platform » there? For me, the recent rumbles on the different Social Media platforms have given me a bunch of inspiration on becoming a new kind of « cross platform geek ».
Experiment with me and dip your toes into the Fediverse
So I have started my little quest with a wade into the primal soup called the Fediverse from which (one day) might rise a new and resilient way to tweet. So far I don’t have many friends or followers, but that is not the point. The point is to discover the pro’s and cons of a service that is NOT tied to somebodies big add budget. It’s all built on dreams, hopes and rubber bands, but so was the Internet back in the 80’s. Come find me, talk to me and discover what’s next .. For cross platform geeks.
In a refresh of an episode last released in 2018, this is the updated for the 2020s edition of KW’s everyday carry. There’s been some changes since the ‘almost everything Apple’ version of this several years ago, so come along and get nosy as we snoop through Knightwise’s updated EDC.
Minimal Bag – Everyday
Work Bag – Work days
Miscellaneous bits and bobs
- Logitech MX Master
- Logitech MX Keys Mini
- Cable holder card
- USB C Everywhere (almost, thanks Apple)
- USB Stick
- SSD 1TB
The action is happening over at our Discord server: Join by clicking this link
- Mix & Production: Keith Murray
Back for the first episode of 2023, Knightwise is joined by a couple of guest hosts this week to talk technology challenges, and working in a world of ubiquitous data availability.
The action is happening over at our Discord server: Join by clicking this link
- Mix & Production: Keith Murray
A quick Instagram post leads to 20 minutes of scrolling. A ping on Linkedin ends up costing me 5 minutes of my day looking at people boasting their new job titles online. A lookup of my train schedule somehow derails into rabbithole search about the origins of the Decepiticon known as Astrotrain. Lets face it: The internet is a distraction pit. Aside from housing the grandest repository of information on the planet, it also comes with a set of addictive apps that love to steal all of your time and eat up the last remaining crumbs of your attention span.
I remember when I had my very first PDA….
I remember when I had my very first PDA (You kids: That is short for “Personal Digital Assistant”. Those digital filo-fax like devices that would house your contacts (whome you could call on a separate phone), your calendar and a bunch of other handy applications like mail(and games) that would get you through the day. Via the magic of a serial cable, this thing would sync with your computer and dump swap out all of the updated info you crammed into it, with applications like Outlook Express or god forbid, Netscape Mail.
Incredible as it may seem, these things were quite productive. You would leave with a “fresh” set of data for the day, and dump out all of the updated emails, contacts, calendar requests etc … in the evening. Meanwhile you could ruin your eyes by trying to read a Ebook on them (I read a small library on them and now wear glasses), jot down notes with a tiny pen (and bastardise your handwriting) or just look cool by flipping the thing open like James T Kirk waiting for a beamout.
The time you spend on that device was your own.
The upside of it was: The time you spent on this device was your own. The You got to choose what you did next, not some pesky marketeer-psychologist-algorithm-entity that is shoving the next TikTok vid down your throat. But sync-cradles no longer exist and “being offline” is no longer an option these days. But there is a solution. How about some “middleware”, applications that allow you to enjoy the functionality of the internet without its distractions ?
Let’s try to start with Social Media. Under immense peer pressure I have found that occasionally I need to post some things on Instagram, to prevent friends sending out search parties to find my withered corpse. I hate Instagram and am especially vulnerable to Reels Video’s. I spend precious time scrolling down to the next video and wrack a huge “scroll-guilt” when I see how time slips through my fingers. I like to poke my head out on Twitter but could not care less about political retweets or watching Elon-the-idiot hogging trending topics. So I want to use social media without HAVING Social media. Can I? Answer? Yes! The answer is simple: Buffer. Its a Social Marketing scheduler for businesses but it works great for the average Joe. You can post to your personal Twitter and Linkedin profile just fine. Instagram takes a bit of fiddling, you’ll need to convert your account into a (public) creator or business account. But after that it works like a charm.
So during the day I snap up some fancy pictures, snarky comments or insightful business blabla and ram the posts into Buffr. I can either post them to one (or multiple) channels, or hold the world in suspense and schedule everything for later. All of that without having any of the spammy apps installed on my phone.
One-way Socials. Yeah I know: I’m screaming into the void and not actually listening for a response, am I? That’s not completely true. I selectively pick and choose my moments where I access the Socials via the web. “Checking in” I call it. I glee over likes, read the snarky comments and snap a quippy response in a DM. That way I do Socials when I want to (and not the other way around). I filter out the crap that is force fed by ‘the algo’ and take back control of my phone (and life).
It’s a small step, but an important one if we want to take back control of our digital life and start watching the screen when WE want to, instead of the other way around.