A bad workman blames his tools

It’s almost Christmas again, and that always throws me into a strange mood. This time I’m thinking again about my main, production machine — a Celeron Thinkpad that will turn 9 years old next month. Maybe you can tell by the screenshots scattered here and there on this blog, but it runs without X or any of its sub-libraries. In fact, it’s been that way for at least nine months by my calculations, ever since I grew so frustrated with inconsistencies between xorg-server and the siliconmotion driver that I rebuilt the entire thing from scratch without them.

I’ve mentioned this several times in the past, but I think it’s worth repeating again that, with the exception of one small point, this computer has handled all the major day-to-day tasks of my personal and online life for the better part of a year. That includes:

  • Managing the blog you’re reading now
  • Composing the post you’re reading right now
  • Reading, composing and managing multiple web-based e-mail accounts
  • Local and remote file management
  • Remote system management
  • Personal timetable and scheduling
  • Web surfing, to include secure sites and managing multiple downloads
  • Music playback, including support for ogg, mp3, flac and other formats
  • Note-taking of any and all kinds, from personal wikis to hierarchical structures, from to-do lists to free-form categorized and structured lists
  • Download managers and torrent clients
  • Download accelerators and automated file downloaders
  • Internet messaging and chat clients
  • More network and system profile monitors than are practical to list
  • News readers and RSS collectors
  • A slew of randomized “screensavers”
  • A healthy array of font selections

And maybe even more important,

  • Image display and management against the framebuffer
  • Frame grabbing, for screenshots of the “desktop”
  • Full video file playback against the framebuffer, to include Flash videos extracted from YouTube and elsewhere

And to round things out,

  • Conversion between multiple audio formats
  • Conversion between document formats, to include proprietary and open-source documents
  • Gobs and gobs of games — so many that I rarely have time to pursue them

And best of all it runs the most commonplace of these tasks, concurrently, on around 18Mb of memory. That’s only about 10 percent of the maximum that will fit in this machine.

And what’s the “one small point” that the system “failed” at? It’s here. But I take responsibility for that, and don’t blame the machine.

I’m not going to pretend I’m some sort of superperson because I can tolerate life without a graphical environment — quite to the contrary: I don’t mean to imply any kind of “I’m so cool and you’re not” tone at all. In fact, I’m quite confident that anyone with the least desire to shift toward this sort of setup could do it.

But that’s the limiting factor, right there — your desire. It’s not the machine or the software that determines whether or not this is feasible, in any shape or form. It’s completely up to you. Whether you pull one or two console applications out of the list and run them against the entire Gnome desktop, or carve your entire system down to fit inside 16Mb and trumpet your enlightenment … it’s up to you. You determine your own level of involvement.

The lessons to be learned are ones I’ve repeated several times over, so I won’t spend much more electronic space harping away at the same points: You can speed up your computer by reducing the system load. You can avoid bloat by learning to use clean, fast software with few dependencies. You can reduce your system requirements by reducing the system load. You can reduce your need for overpowered technology by using lighter, faster software. You can save money by preserving and maintaining out of date hardware, and continuing to use it. You can make a social and environmental impact by refusing to contribute to the corporate and materialistic philosophies of greed that otherwise run rampant in the greater part of culture today … by using the same hardware you’ve had, and learning to use it better.

There’s an odd little aphorism that’s quoted infrequently in my culture: “A bad workman blames his tools.” I would like to add to that one, by suggesting that a bad workman blames his tools, but a worse workman goes out and buys new tools, thinking it will make him a better workman. Now this time I am implying something. Happy holidays. 😈

2 thoughts on “A bad workman blames his tools

  1. fuxter

    wow, time flies! it’s really been about nine month since you’ve gone “x-less”. i’m glad i follow your great blog and your stuff. thanks a lot and happy holidays to you too, sir!

  2. Armor Nick

    I still agree with you on the ‘old’ hardware thing. I almost gave into the tempation of buying a new laptop, but didn’t. Because of this blog 😀 .

    Anyways, I’m still not ready to go X-less. Or Gnome-less for that matter. But my laptop is still faster than if I’d have any windows variety installed on it. Except maybe Windows 98 (my favourite windows 😉 ).

    But maybe if Ubuntu ever gets too bulky for my tastes, or my laptop slows to a grinding halt (unlikely with 3G of RAM), I’ll come back and read every terminal tip from this blog.


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