Less Ties With A Machine - Desktop Customization & Workflow

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Hello fellow nixers,
This thread is a discussion regarding new ways to think and work with a machine, tips and practices.

I'm currently in the process of switching my main work machine because of the deprecation of 686 on Arch.

Xero mentioned during the last podcast that one of his coworker reached a sort of workflow that is un-tied with the machine, dynamically setting up his custom environment at every boot.
I'm not really looking for that exact setup but for something lighter, at least on the brain for possible future changes.

The last few days I've thought of all the ways I could list what I wanted to transfer on my new box, what I wanted to retain from it and what software to help me manage this in the future.

I've thought of dot file keepers like stow for the configuration.
I've thought of ricerous, just to guide me through the installs.
I've went back through my definition of minimalism to realize what I truly needed.
I've thought of creating a well ordered home directory.
I've thought of easy backups.
I reviewed this thread about managing multiple machines.
I've thought about keeping track of my things.

All those ideas merge somewhere along of the lines of "less ties", "less worries", "better and lighter workflow".

What are your thoughts on this fuzzy subject?

# Less ties with a machine #

Let's say you've been using a machine for a year or two and over time you
gradually become more attached and dependent on it. This is a situation
I've found myself into more than once and it is quite annoying, it's
straining for the brain. I've been through it the past few days and it
and I kept wondering about the ways I could make it less of a pain.
Imagine if today you suddenly lost access to your current work machine,
what would you do? This all rotates around the concept of having "less
ties", "less worries", "better or lighter workflow". And there are no
exact step-by-step guide to reach this, only nebulous and vague ideas
that rotate around it. However, checking some of them might make it less
straining on the brain, less of a burden, for possible future changes.

So we're going to discuss how we can have less ties with a machine,
how to be more relaxed with our workflow, machine, and operating system.

I guess the best way, first way I can think of, to have nothing as a
burden would be to have no machine to begin with. To be not tied with a
machine at all. Let's say to boot from a USB or live distribution. You're
completely untied in that case. Or what about using a thin client. Those
are all less straining because you can't necessarily make long lasting
changes on live distros for instance.
But other than live distros you could also have persistent pendrive,
live distro that run entirely on the ram but that can keep persistent data
on the USB itself. On the other side to do that you'll have to deal with
the disadvantage of having slower boot time, because of the media type,
be it CD/DVD or USB. More than that you could do a full installation of
a distribution on the USB drive but the disadvantage is that USB are
sort of small and not supported for all fs. To counter that you could
install the distro on a portable hard disk, those are pretty cheap
Nowadays. A full install on a hard disk, no ties to a real machine. But
the real disadvantage now is that usually a lot of binaries are
architecture dependent (x86 x96_64 powerpc, etc..) so you're not truly
machine dependent because you'll have to install all sort of architectures
and libraries so that it's supported everywhere.
So this is an overview of how to lighten up your setup by not having
a machine at all.

Did you run your daily backup, do you even have backups. Do you have
backups and know how to deploy them back again. What's the role of having
backups on a desktop. Ok, I mean... What are you going to backup? That's
the big question we discussed in the episode about backing up and
deploying: What to backup, how to backup, and how to deploy it.
Backups themselves are a great way to remove a burden from your life,
you have to run them because you never know when your data is going to be
on fire. You have to keep redundancy, consistent, with all your important
files. You have to make sure that what you care about is duplicated there,
that it's safe. But if at the moment you are a hoarder, stacking up files
everywhere on your system, then what's the goal of a backup if it's a
copy of everything. How are you going to set everything again after you
lost the first machine. If you can't make sense of what you have in the
first place then backups are junk. It's true they are duplicates but
those duplicates are useless.

This is an extract from an article I've written called "Keeping track
of your things":
What some us of tend to forget is that to make a workflow smooth you
don’t especially need to know your tools by heart but you have to
reach a point where your tools will guide you.

You might argue that as a Unix user you want full power over your machine
but this is not what this is about. No one, except the masochist,
would want to work on a system by forcing his intentions into it. As
a developer, sys-admin, Unix enthusiast, you dream of those days where
everything goes smooth, where you’re happy to have chosen Unix because
it suits you best.

The smoothness comes from the fact that your environment evolved and
morphed to your needs and is now capable of helping you get on track
when you get lost.

Enough of the sentimental talk, let’s get into how you reach such state.

Apart from knowing the basics of your system and how to use the programs
themselves the biggest part of a enjoyable and sweet workflow is one
that can acts as your second memory.

By second memory I mean an extension of your thoughts, thinking, and
physical brain memory. (resident memory but for human)

Let’s start with a simple exercise, for those of you that have been on
Unix for more than a year. Close your eyes and remember the last time
you had to work on a machine that wasn't yours, what were the things
that annoyed you the most?

Was it the window manager itself? Was it that it was missing the tools you
usually work with? Was it because it just didn't seem to be responsive
to your needs?

Or was it because you were lost on that system?

The hard truth is that the only reason it was annoying to work on
that other machine was because you were lost, it wasn't your home,
you didn't know how to handle things that weren't in your mundane
daily flow.

What makes a flow so intuitive.

My guess is that it’s all about the way you inserted your thoughts
in the environment in the first place. People keep track of things,
that’s what information technology is all about.

Let’s list all the places where I keep my memories as a personal example:

* A todo list
* Commands
* Browser Bookmarks/Opened Tabs
* Program Launchers
* Conky/Wallpaper
* Shell History/Aliases/Functions
* File Manager Bookmarks/Soft Linking

Exercise number two: List the top of your memory-helpers on your current
machine. Now think back to that time when you used that foreign machine,
if you could have the equivalent of those memory-helpers on that box
would you still feel the same way?

No, there’s nothing wrong with having your machine helping you remember
things. No, it doesn't make you machine dependent, on the opposite,
it helps considerably. My bet is that you’re already doing all that
I mentioned unconsciously. Though it would be a bad idea to start doing
that if you haven’t grasp the basics and are heavily reliant on your
little fake memory.

The last step is to make those actions concious. If you know that your
shell history has helped you why not take it to the next level and have
a side program handle that history for you.

Keep it between machines synchronized.
Keep track of your things.

It's satisfying to know about the things that help you use your machine
as an extension of your mind. But where do draw the line, to stop taking
things from the machine or from memory. Creating in the meanwhile mental
clutter and visual clutter on the machine.
That's where the concept of minimalism comes into play. We've amply
discussed that topic quite a bit in a podcast with this topic before,
you can go back to that. There are many aspects around this topic,
simple living which conflates with minimalism in the world of computing
and minimalism in the world of art and digital minimalism. Simple living
would be simplifying one's own lifestyle. Minimalism in computing refers
to hardware and software design that goes to the core of the value of
what you're using. Minimalism in art is about using as less material
as possible, as less visual bloat as possible while still conveying the
message. There's an article I've recently linked in the newsletter by Cal
Newport on digital minimalism and I think the things he mentions in the
article encompass the message I want to convey here. He splits the value
you can give something in the digital world into three categories. Those
categories are very subjective, you can associate them to whatever you
personal think is appropriate for yourself. Those categories are: the
core value, the minor value, and the invented value. The core value is
for any technology that majorly impact your life, something you can't live
without. A minor value is something that provides some moderate benefits
while being a positive part of your life. And an invented value is, like
the obvious name, is something that gives an invented value, it solves
a problem that the technology itself brings to light/into your life. Those
values themselves, again, are very subjective you can associate the tech
you want with what value you want, but all in all it's important to talk
about minimalism when discussing the topic of less ties. To have less
ties you have to minimize. When you have less things you are able to foc us
more to keep track of your things more and realize truly what you need.
And while you are doing this backups do make sense. What else can you
do to keep track of your things and to keep them in order.

So maybe you really know what you want from the get go. Maybe you
have that small space in your mind to keep track of whatever you have
installed on your system at the moment. However most probably you don't,
you don't keep track of everything and that's where some softwares come
to the rescue. For example you could use one to help you manage dot
files, like gnu stow which works by having a repository (farm) holding
your dot files and it managing them, keeping them in order, in sync,
etc.. Or you could have a software to give you a list of whatever you
have installed, somewhat like a tutorial. For example ricerous that we
built at nixers. You could also use softwares to sync machines together
like rsync and others. Or you could probably keep a simple text file
with a list of softwares you have installed, or even hook it with your
package manager so that it's in sync with the current packages, whenever
you install a package it will append it to this list. What I want to say
is that there are a bunch of ways that can help you leverage the burden
on your mind to keep track of what is on your machine and how coherent
it is without necessarily it being a hassle.
But I think this management part comes after the minimalism step,
after cleaning up, when you already know what you want install and
knowing how your system works. Maybe you have to mess up your machine
at least once, to learn, and then go through this process.
So overall use those softwares if you're not able to keep order yourself.

There are some good practices that can help you have less ties with
a machine while still being productive. One of them is to not have
configurations installed for all users, as in installed globally in /etc/
or /usr/local... So that means having everything in your home, having
a transportable home. Having something that is reproducible. Having a
well ordered tidy home directory is really important when it comes to
having less ties with a machine. If you want you can glance at a thread
we had on the forums about creating nice home directory trees. It could
inspire you. Overall what I found what help was to have at least a
binary directory with executables in it, so it's appended to the path,
some documents directory, some media, some source code, whatever suits
your needs. You just need to keep up with it, and not hoarder.
A well ordered home directory is a transportable home directory.

Let's continue with the good practices, another thing would be to have
a reproducible, scriptable, deployable home directory, which would have
everything in it. It's sort of the mix up between the dot file keepers,
the setup stepbystep keeper, and the portable home directory, along with
the script that sets everything up, config in the home, creating the
symlink where they need to be, install the packages, etc.. Once it's
setup it's setup, that's it. It's a good way to have less ties because
it means copying your home and running the script will reproduce your
system, workflow, minimal stuffs, and core value. I think this is the
epitome of whatever having less ties with a machine means.

With that we can conclude this podcast.

If you want to contribute check this thread.

everlong (instumental acoustic)
by cassidy orth

Messages In This Thread
Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 31-01-2017, 09:47 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by Halfwit - 31-01-2017, 02:33 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by Nihility - 02-02-2017, 05:28 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 19-02-2017, 03:53 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by z3bra - 20-02-2017, 09:00 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by Halfwit - 02-03-2017, 03:45 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 03-03-2017, 02:40 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by acg - 03-03-2017, 01:21 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 18-04-2018, 11:22 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by josuah - 21-04-2018, 04:51 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 21-04-2018, 08:29 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by z3bra - 14-03-2020, 09:00 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 15-03-2020, 05:56 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by twee - 16-03-2020, 02:08 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by neeasade - 16-03-2020, 04:25 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by twee - 18-03-2020, 04:33 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 18-03-2020, 05:24 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by z3bra - 18-03-2020, 05:56 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by neeasade - 18-03-2020, 11:14 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by twee - 18-03-2020, 01:05 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by stratex - 02-12-2020, 08:34 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by Guest0x0 - 09-12-2020, 12:30 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by opfez - 09-12-2020, 04:07 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by jkl - 09-12-2020, 06:22 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by Guest0x0 - 09-12-2020, 07:07 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by stratex - 09-12-2020, 07:39 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by opfez - 09-12-2020, 09:37 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by freem - 09-12-2020, 02:19 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by jkl - 09-12-2020, 03:03 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by venam - 26-04-2021, 10:57 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by seninha - 26-04-2021, 06:00 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by twlvscnds - 19-08-2021, 07:41 AM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by jkl - 19-08-2021, 12:17 PM
RE: Less Ties With A Machine - by twlvscnds - 19-08-2021, 12:52 PM