Swimming Upstream
I would like to do useful work on my desktop, unplugged

The flaws of the “web as desktop” model really became apparent to me in the third world. The lack of bandwidth and incredibly long RT times made using many websites almost physically painful. Local apps and local storage work a lot better.

Using the web for everything requires always-on - and global - connectivity, centralized servers, and advertising as a revenue model. The web security model is fundamentally borked, and I hate that 40% of my “desktop” is dominated by branding for every “product” I use and every page I read. I hate that the default colors for all the web apps are blinding black on white, where I prefer green on black.

I get my news and blogs via RSS so I can read them my way, in my own tools. I was stunned to see chromium (a google chrome derivative) didn’t automatically recognise RSS feeds, and figure it’s part of a conspiracy to keep people from using anything BUT the browser… I’m glad RSS exists, but I really miss netnews. I’d really miss RSS, if it went away.

Interfacing with the web is full of endless ADD-causing interruptions. Also while playing with chromium’s (otherwise excellent) web analysis tools I saw ads on the web pages I visit frequently for the first time in the years since I installed adblockplus. Yuck.

Almost every search site out there now requires a redirect FROM its results to the actual web page, slowing down my mind, once again. Why can’t I just cache the search results and have my own personal keyword to web page database running on my own box and share my thinking just with my own trust/peer group?

I HATE writing stuff on the web. I write in a professional tool - emacs - honed by 20+ years of hacking to be excellent for all forms of writing, not the casual sort of writing that the web encourages. I turn OFF my spell checker until after the initial burst of creativity is done, and have to use a custom spell checker that supports both spanish and english, regardless. The spell checker is a keystroke away. I also have a dictionary and thesarus running on my laptop that is a keystroke away. My rfc database is a keystroke away. When posting to an online system of any sort I used to use a plugin for my editor - and I hate losing control of my content to their idea of a revision cycle.

It bugs the HELL out of me that there’s no laptop with a portrait, rather than landscape display. And why do all the mainstream window managers have a “Maximize window” mode and not a “Maximize vertical space” mode? Most web pages look like crap at 1600x1200, I want room left over for my other applications….

I know I’m swimming upstream, but what’s so wrong about:

Wanting to be able to work offline - carrying my drafts and final output with ME, always - to be in a field, somewhere, writing not even connected to 3G - or wanting to be doing complex, interesting things like making music with ardour or protools, creating content without a commercial break?


Preferring a BIG, empty screen or two for my work, my branding, my stuff? I don’t have enough pixels to spare for ANYTHING else. I turn OFF the vertical scrollbar on every application I can. Fairly often I switch to a GREAT, innovative tiling window manager, to just get a few more pixels BACK, for ME. I can use them for BIGGER FONTS, for my old tired eyes. Every web graphic designer out there seems to be using 10 or 12pt fonts. I can’t READ them. Reading stuff on an android - with the exception of this blog - is an exercise in futility, with all the zooming and scrolling around.


I LIKE that my chats are private, mediated by otr, and the only logs are kept on the correspondents’ machines.

I LIKE that my email (used) to work the same way, and email was integrated into my editor. Heck, I liked it when the standard transport for every device I had - when they had a problem - was email - that didn’t require always-on-connectivity.

I’d like to be able to make a phone call without going through skype, or a browser. This week, I’ve experimenting with linphone, which supports p2p ipv6 calling, and video at higher framerates and quality verses what I can get from skype. Most sip client work INSIDE my network, rather than requiring round trips to the Internet just to talk to my room-mate downstairs. The whole sip based telephony market, IMHO, may be posed for a comeback - with Freeswitch long having IPv6 support and asterisk 1.8 just having released it.

I USED to collaborate on writing code - via X11 - using emacs’s handy-dandy multiple display support. Web pastebins are VERY useful but it used to be so much easier to just slam the editor up on the helper’s screen.

I still use multiple display support when I have multiple machines on my desktop.

Yesterday - ubuntu announced that it might be abandoning X11. Sigh. I’ve ranted about the advantages of network transparency elsewhere. Heh. I just re-read that rant. It’s STILL spot on. I regularly support a friend that works out on an oil rig in Mexico, and (despite latencies in the 1 second range and a really hard firewall to get through), I fix his problems using ssh and X11 (NX). I don’t know how I can help him if X goes away. VNC is unusable over this link. So is the web. SSH “just works”.

My aging nokia 770 handheld - 7 years old now and still ticking - lets me drag and drop files to it over sshfs. I keep it up to date with interesting stuff with rsync. It has a webserver. My shiny new android requires I plug it into the usb port, no ssh, no rsync, no webserver. Why is that? I can have an iphone and an android sitting right next to each other - capable of transferring files at 54Mbit per second - and they can’t talk to each other! Both can talk to my old nokia though…

I will be radical here, and just quote elf:

    “Even though The Web is slowly being eroded into the usual consumer-based, mindless dreck that every other form of media is…there are still 65, 534 other ports to play on.”

In short, I’d like it if the browser was just a small component of my desktop, and other interesting applications had space to breathe.

I can’t be alone in wanting the world to look more the way I want, can I?


  • oh! a commenter! (via facebook!) Yea! (Why must my comments vanish into a silo like facebook? I’d have lost the interesting, off the cuff concept of the Interplanetary Overthruster if it had vanished into the facebook silo)

Chipper comments:

Just curious, what are your goals? Why are you spending so much time and effort on IPv6 as a for instance? * Because you intend to be a network administrator when you grow up? * Because you intend to be a system administrator when you grow up? The whole idea -in my mind- of having a home/business account with a static IP, is that it’s so easy to apt-get install $whatever and just DO IT.

Yes, you can still get a static IP in the USA. But it’s 1) now costing an extra 300 dollars/year, and 2) you can’t easily get one elsewhere. This problem is only going to get worse.

The way I’m doing things now I have total control of the stack AND my servers, and can innovate with them. I CAN swim upstream. What those things are, I don’t know, and that’s the fun of it. Maybe I’ll come up with something highly desirable, maybe not.

And maybe, one day, whatever that may be will be easier for non-system-admins to deploy.

Don’t you remember the days where every sysadm got enthused about the Internet and moved mountains in order to make it work for you, your grandma, for everybody? We dragged cables across the floor, silently cross connected cables in server rooms without telling our managers, and MADE IT WORK because we thought it was a good thing.

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that “social networking” requires sitting at home, alone, with a computer? I remember the good old days at “Cybernation” where people went OUT to get on the net, and they played games, together, in the same room. There’s all sorts of ways people could be collaborating together, in the same workspace, not over the web, yet still mediated by compuers, like what the Collide Factory is doing.

I’ve always wanted a jamophone - where I could play music with my neighbor down the street, over the net. Can’t do it, using ipv4 and Nat.

But, it seems to me, that you are spending all of your time and talent reinventing wheels that were built really well decades ago.

Not all, but some! I really dislike dhcp, and am not fond of dnsmasq, either, as examples.

I go read NeX-6 every day loyally. All I get is “I reinvented another wheel, soon I’ll be able to reinvent another wheel, and once that’s done, I can reinvent another wheel, and that will allow me to reinvent all these other wheels, so that I can write.

I HAVE been (conciously) trying to rebuild the Net from layer-1 up. While in Nicaragua I went back to my very roots in networking and tried to look at it all with a fresh mind, to see what worked, and why, and where we went wrong, in the hope that I can find an interesting and useful path forward (see elf quote, above).

The biggest problem, as I see it, is the latency inherent in the current Internet model of “mediators for every useful service” - example: I’d like it if (one day) twitter didn’t have a 140 character limitation and was (optionally) P2P over IPv6. Groups would be doing their surface thought exchange in under .1 seconds, instead of minutes. Having all the men in the middle, as we do now, slows the internet mind down, drastically.

I am delighted that I have retained at least one dedicated reader since switching to this blog format. Do you use RSS or the web?

Why not just write? Lookie here, I Just wrote this, without having to install anything. Shame I cannot comment on yer blog. Kinda the fun of blogs is the ability to have readers comment, which is also a big part of the not-fun side.

I totally agree that the comments is the fun part - the whole yelling back at the TV part - and I’m working on fixing it. The Myopenid link on the comment posts is currently working, but google and yahoo “openids” are not. I’m not satisfied with the security model for any commenting model so I’ll keep fiddling. Stay tuned.

Some anecdotal proof that the latency of the web was bad for my writing process:

After switching to this new, ikiwiki and git based format and local blogging method, I’m having a LOT less problems spewing out 1000 words an hour, which is what I just did.

My revision cycle (2300+ words total, including yours - is there a word-count feature on blogger? on emacs it’s meta-word-count) took another hour, which is WAY shorter than what it was.

I used to pound out emails really quick, too, and handle thousands (seriously) of emails a day by pre-sorting them into appropriate buckets using procmail. Using gmail screws up that system for me. I’m going to put email back into emacs and see what happens.

Chip wrote in again:

And who uses linphone?

SIP interoperates with a lot of other sip phones. I’m only using linphone because of the on-going ipv6 experiment.

what the hell is p2p collaboration? And is there some huge shift in the ‘lolcatz’ paradigm that you are seeing?

Yea, my question exactly.

I see less than .004% of the general internet population creating content, and that may goes as high as .004792% in 5 years. Assuming we have 5 years of course. That said, the movers and shakers in the wide world of bandwidth are exactly the folks we hoped/dreamed/and actively did our level best to hobble. Prolly, here in teh US, 90% of bandwidth is being managed by the comcasts of the world. Come up with the most brilliant IPv6 deployment plan on earth, unless comcast adopts it, it won’t really matter a whole hell of a lot.

They are rolling out stuff now. We’ll see how it goes. The world is a lot bigger than comcast6. And yea, some of what I was trying to do with the [/wiki/wisp6) concept was to KEEP trying to hobble and advance faster than the central providers. I HAD a 2TBit backbone for 300Mbit p2p links for networking in Nicaragua and had hoped to come up with uses for it. Anybody can now build something like that, anywhere, much like Airstream did in Australia.

And at least, today, 6in4 is feasible for everyone.

I don’t think. Hacking IPv6 linux-ee stuff is cool, and I’m glad folks are doing it, but it’s not in broad deployment, and won’t be in broad deployment any time soon, just like last year, 5 years before that, and 5 years before that.

I do think on long timescales. I adopted the Internet (well, usenet) back in 1985, when people were still using Fidonet and BBSes.

And since it’s not in broad deployment, and working on it can’t bring your personal economy up as well as working as a clerk at the local Bradly Food Mart/Sinclair station will, I question the effort. And does linphone IPv6 p2p collaboration support DTaht writing stuff?

Working on it now is bleeding edge and satisfying in its own way. Secondly - at least so far as ipv6 is concerned, it is very easy to deploy using 6in4 tunneling, on a static ip address, from just about anyone.

You only have a few years left, maybe a few more, maybe a few left, what do you want to do with that time? Just asking, to me, that’s the goal.

That’s a damn good question that I continue to struggle with.

PS, if you intent to reply from a p2p IPv6 hand-held smart phone-ee device, don’t bother.

Write a song, (no more Rhysling for at least a year) or write an article about how YOU see the $election (which I see as meaningless). Write an article about SOMETHING someone OTHER than the useless drivelling hordes of slashdotters will care about.

I’ll paypal you $5 to do this.

Chip’s last point is kind of cool. I’d like to find some way of getting paid in some other currency than wuffie. I am totally unsure that the web is a place to do that, anymore.

Find me elsewhere.

Best of the blog Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
On the Columbia - Why I care about space
Authors I like:
Doc Searls
Jerry Pournelle
The Cubic Dog
David Brin
Charlie Stross
Eric Raymond
The Intercept
Chunky Mark
Dan Luu's rants about hardware design
Selenian Boondocks
Transterrestial Musings

February 10, 2011
2514 words

rants latency usability