Switching My Life


This is a description of intent, with some rationale. Maybe some of this will be useful for you. If nothing else, some advice would also be appreciated. So. What is is this about? I have decided to make some changes in my electronic life. I will not make all the changes immediately, and I don’t have any complete plans yet – this is the outlines for a long term plan.

My current situation

I have used a MacBook as my main computer for the last 7 years. I do a lot of development in different environments, and when I switched, MacOS X coupled with the hardware allowed me to get more things done without dealing with stuff I didn’t want to deal with. But MacOS X also afforded me the possibility of tweaking and changing many of the parts of the OS when I needed to do that.

I have several email accounts, most of them are GMail in one variety or another. I also use several other pieces of the Google ecosystem.

ITunes is my main music player. I have lots of music and other things that I regularly sync with my IPad and IPhone – both of whom I depend a lot on in my day-to-day life.

This blog and a few other services are hosted on Rackspace.

In addition to an IPhone, I also have a Galaxy Note 2. I use both phones and the IPad extensively.

I currently store most of my life inside of 1Password.

I use Dropbox for sharing files and information between different people and devices.

Why I want to change

Fundamentally I am a believer in free software. I believe that open ecosystems are better than closed ones, and I believe that monocultures are extremely bad in the long run. I am not a huge fan of centralization, and I don’t like the anglocentric focus of our industry. I am not a huge fan of having all my electronic life hosted under the auspices of US legislation, especially not in light of recent events. I am also getting more and more uncomfortable with closed services and software that I can’t inspect.

But looking at the various things that define my electronic life, it’s clear that my day-to-day actions speak a very different message from my beliefs. So I am going to change that. Of course I realize that this might be painful. There are many things that a monocolture does quite well. It’s a local optima for certain problems. But as part of this effort I will have to take a hit in productivity to stand for what I believe in.

What I will change to

I have not completely decided all the particulars of the direction I’m going to take. Since it will be a long term effort, I can take it step by step. The first and probably biggest step is that I will migrate from an Apple laptop as my main programming device. I will instead run a System76 Gazelle with Debian 7.

Of course, switching back to Linux will mean that several things will be easier to switch to – I won’t be able to keep using some of my usual tools.

Open questions

There are a whole slew of open questions in this quest. The biggest one is probably what to do about mobile phones. None of the smartphones out there are particularly open while being strong enough for daily use. Maybe the Ubuntu Edge will be that phone at some point, but for now I’m not sure.

A password manager is also a requirement. I really like 1Password, but since it is closed source I am uncomfortable keeping my credentials there much longer. The only viable alternative seems to be KeePassX. I haven’t tried it yet, but since it hasn’t seen updates for several years, that doesn’t strike me as very confidence inspiring.

I want to get out of GMail, but I have no idea where I will go. I might host for myself, but that comes with a significant burden.

I currently run my servers on Rackspace. I need to change that to something that is hosted in a better legal framework, but there are not that many good cloud providers out there.

Any recommendations and thoughts are welcome!


12 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Mats Henricson

    Ola, I’m with you, and I will walk the same path as you! In one way I’m ahead of you, since I’m on Linux Mint, of which I am very satisfied. But it is on a ThinkPad X220i, and next upgrade will be a conscious step where I’ll go for as much open hardware as possible. Why the System76 Gazelle?

    I may also re-evaluate the choice of distro. Debian is possibly also my next choice. I’ve grown used to Cinnamon, so I need to check out how well that will work with Debian.

    First step on a new laptop is to run http://www.dban.org, then make sure as much of your filesystem as possible is encrypted by default. Right now it is just my /home/mats directory, I may go for the full enchilada next time. I’ll do some research when it is time for that step.

    Dropbox has its uses, but in the future I plan to only use its /Public directory for sharing files. NSA/FRA is welcome to index all that stuff. For all my other files I will use Wuala or Tahoe-LAFS. I have donated almost $400 to that project, as it may become one of the most important cornerstones of the future.

    I am also migrating all my private email to a new email adress for which I have configured EnigMail, with published public keys for anyone to download. I try to encrypt as many emails as possible. Today I discovered that Anna Troberg has a public key up. That made me happy. I am also a hardcore POP user, don’t want to leave my emails on a server somewhere else. In the future, MailPile might be our solution for email.

    For Twitter/RSS I have good hopes for the Trsst project. If you haven’t helped them in their crowdfunding, do it now: http://www.trsst.com

    For chat, we have the heml.is project, run by Peter Sunde and a few fellows. They are well funded, so I have good hopes for them too.

    So, I believe there’s a bright future for us. I find this to be exciting times, party like its 1996!

    September 12th, 2013

  2. Simon Brunning

    Is / worth a look?

    September 12th, 2013

  3. CyanogenMod base their Android build on the Android Open Source Project, but with many enhancements (they’ve recently been quite focussed on security and secure messaging)
    That might make a good software platform, assuming that you can trust the hardware platform.

    I also recently came across Freenet, which looks interesting for decentralized, anonymous sharing of resources. I haven’t investigated too far, but at first glance, the fact that it’s a giant, anonymous, distributed cache, where what’s been requested, who’s hosting it and who’s receiving it are all hidden by default sounds intriguing.

    September 12th, 2013

  4. I recommend https://www.moln.is to replace Rackspace. It was started by Peter Sunde. I’ve found it very reliable.

    I host my own email, and don’t find it too difficult … and I’m not a red-hot programmer like you. I find it helps to run a local IMAP server (Dovecot) on my laptop, so that I can search most or all of my email very quickly.

    September 12th, 2013

  5. Jason – thanks for the link. I’ll definitely take a look at moln.is. Have been thinking about hosting my own mail as well. How do you deal with TLS of SMTP etc?

    September 13th, 2013

  6. Simon – UPM looks interesting, but it’s written in Java. I would prefer not trusting highly sensitive data to a moving garbage collector and no real memory protection…

    September 13th, 2013

  7. Andy – Yeah, CyanogenMod is one potential, however the baseband is still closed source, right? Also, I’m actually uncomfortable with the hardware as well…

    I have Freenet running right now. It’s an interesting idea and might become something more at some point.

    September 13th, 2013

  8. Mats -

    System76 because they create hardware optimized for Linux, and doesn’t preload with a Windows instances. I also wanted something with good performance. There are enough scary rumors about ThinkPads that I don’t really want to go down that route.

    Debian was always my favorite, so going back to it should be fairly easy. =)

    dban is definitely a must and I’ll make sure to start with it.

    I’ll definitely go for full disk encryption of all my disks. Not sure which one to use though. Any thoughts?

    Tahoe-LAFS seems very nice, I’ll try to go with that as much as possible.

    It seems hosting my own email will be the best option for the foreseeable future.

    I definitely like the idea of trsst – we’ll see where it goes.

    heml.is I’m very wary of. I don’t want to switch to something that isn’t completely open.

    But yeah, there are alternatives. Sadly the usability is still not there for much of it.

    September 13th, 2013

  9. Pablo

    You could also try the ZaReason laptops: http://zareason.com

    September 13th, 2013

  10. ola — for setting up an email server, check out this article: /code/nsa-proof-your-e-mail-in-2-hours/

    September 13th, 2013

  11. Welcome back :)!

    I’ve been a happy Arch Linux user since 2009 on Lenovo laptops. first a X200, now a X230. What are the scary rumours?

    I moved from iTunes to mpd, I exported all my ratings and playlists as standard m3u’s. Very far from the comfort of iTunes, but I can stream my playlists over icecast :).

    I’m using LastPass and have looked at alternatives. I’m thinking of moving everything to pass.

    I am using SparkleShare for some Dropbox jobs such as my vimwiki and dotfiles.

    My biggest problem with Google is the calendar. I have my whole family there and it is very hard to break from. I’m thinking of moving them to fruux.com, but I assume it will be an uphill battle.

    September 16th, 2013

  12. simonh

    Good for you, Ola. I’ve been using openSUSE for about three years now. Slackware before that. Never understood the fascination with Apple lock in.

    Anyway, for passwords, you can’t get much more secure than a book with them written in. I’ve been doing this for about ten years. Low tech, yes.

    September 30th, 2013

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