Does Life Really Need To Be As Complicated As It Is?


Saturday, 7.42pm

Sheffield, U.K.

“First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we’ve realized it’s a brochure.” – Douglas Adams

After a round of recent updates it’s becoming clear that some of my computers are getting a little long in the tooth. The relentless need for more bandwidth and higher resolution applications along with sneaky decisions by developers to create lots of processes that hog computing resource is pretty irritating. After all, does a browser really need to use quite so much memory and processor power? What are we trying to do here really?

It sometimes feels like we are in the relentless pursuit of bloat, more of everything at the expense of all things. Having more does not make us better off or smarter or better looking. It all just slows us down, adds weight and acts like anchors, physical, mental and financial. And is this really helping us at all?

I realize this is just moaning, and Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” gets it right as usual, remarking on how people complain all the time, including how things went bad when we came down from the trees and started walking around, while others are of the opinion that we really shouldn’t have left the seas at all. I also appreciate that the complaints I have will seem pointless to people who do not quite see that constraints are freeing in a way that resources are not.

For example, the Raspberry Pi is in the news, with a gorgeous throwback to a computer in a keyboard priced lower than a weekly food shop, less than you’d spend on a takeaway on certain days. The Pi 400 is an entry level desktop computer and while it’s aimed at students there’s no reason why you can’t try and use it for other stuff as well. I thought I’d try an experiment for a bit and see if I could do the things I wanted to do in the world of the Pi, and actually go back to a previous model, the Pi B+, which is even cheaper.

There are a few core things that I do every day, write – in a blog or papers and draw the images that go along with these. Drawing is the only reason for starting up the graphical display, the X interface, what most people think of as windows. The rest of the time is all about text and that’s fine in the command line, in the old DOS looking terminal. Now, can I do that, can I spend most of my time looking at black and white, including for Internet research and only surface to the desktop when I need to draw something?

Well, so far it seems like I can. Elinks is a fine text mode browser. Using Screen I can create windows and copy and paste text from one place to another, like with the quote that starts this post. I post what I write to WordPress using org2blog but I have to confess I am not a fan of the interstellar spaceship that is emacs. I prefer writing in ed and vi. But emacs has the awesome org2blog mode that makes it so much easier to post what I write to WordPress.

Already as I do this it’s distraction free, I cannot do anything other than write without effort, so I have to make an effort if I want to distract myself. There is the cursor and the page and that is all. I only need to go to a browser when I am looking for information and the rest of the time I am free to move that cursor along, word after word, line after line. There is no email popping up, no LinkedIn to check, no news to worry about, no update on what Biden is doing right now or whether the other guy has finished with golf.

Now, for those of you that haven’t seen a Pi, it’s the size of a pack of playing cards. It’s sitting here, working away, doing what I would do with a lot more computing power. That said, this little box probably has most of the power of my eight year old machine, but given that I am using forty year old software it has all the power I need.

Anyway I don’t have much more to say on this matter other than I’m going to try this for a bit and see what happens. There should be no real effect on anyone that reads this. It might just make it easier for me to focus on what matters.


Karthik Suresh

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