2023 Recap - A Year of Simplification
2023-12-18 -  10:3
2023 is about to come to an end, so I figure I would write a post about the "theme" that sort of appeared for me this year. That theme has been "Simplification", especially in terms of technology. I was getting sick of technology controlling me when I felt like I should be the one controlling the technology. I am a programmer after all...
The following are things I changed quite drastically over 2023 and am happier in the longrun about changing. Some of these changes are more digital in nature and some are more analog.
For about 6 years I smoked cigarettes. Not a ton unless I was out at a bar on a busy weekend where a bunch of other folks go out for frequent smoke breaks. I'm happy to say I quit smoking in May. The specific rule I set up was "Don't take in any nicotine with the exception of if a ritual calls for it." Decided to stop cold-turkey for at least the month and see how I felt, with the hopes I could continue on after. There have been only 2 times since that I bothered to take in nicotine, and both of those times were from vapes where I wanted to see how my body would react from a small puff. That technically broke the rule, but it was for science. Unsurprisingly to me, my body (and mostly my eyes that got dry almost immediately) were not happy either time. Nicotine is an insecticide after all, and my body definitely could tell. Minnesota has really high taxes on cigarettes, so my wallet is considerably happier. I also feel better and smell better as a result of quitting smoking (and nicotine as a whole)!
I used to use a cheap Android phone with a phone bill of about $35 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 6GB of data. A few big issues I noticed about me that I didn't like were:
- I would check my phone a lot when around others
- I would check and distract myself with my phone for hours when I should have been sleeping
The first issue is an incredibly common issue I see everywhere I go that has people... It's like people are not allowed to feel bored for even a second. The big "cure" for boredom I see/hear a lot seems to be TikTok. My "cure" for boredom before I got rid of my account a bit more than a year ago was Twitter doomscrolling. It fills me with sadness when I'm at someone's place and they spend their entire time on their phones watching an endless feed of random 20-60 second videos instead of being in the moment and communicating with the person they invited over. Eh... my lawn looks nice and I'm noticing kids wanting to walk on it...
My phone is now a Nokia feature phone. It takes a bit longer to text with T-9, but there's not much interesting on my phone so I don't bother looking at it that much. As a benefit at this moment, I only pay $5 a month for 500 minutes of talk and 500 minutes of text, which I haven't even gotten close to using up on any particular month.
For the meantime my phone is a very minimal part of my life, to the point where I tend to leave it at home while I'm out. Maybe soon enough I can get to the point where I can reasonably not have a phone at all, but I'm happier about my phone situation now than I was at the beginning of 2023.
For quite a few years, I used an online only bank that was in a completely different state. That bank eventually got sold to another bank which shortly after got bought out by PNC. PNC's app requires a crazy amount of intrusive permissions, the customer service sucks, and it was incredibly difficult for me to cancel my account. Thankfully that headache is now dealt with and now I have a bank account at a local bank. I figured while I was out getting the bank account that I may as well get a library card at my local library as well and support my local community to some degree more.
There is something nice about being able to physically go to a location and not have to fully rely on the internet for basics. Support your local businesses and establishments!
Self Hosting Git Server
There were quite a few reasons why I was getting less interested in GitHub over time, so I decided to self host. Some folks use programs like gitea for a minimalist setup, but I decided to set up my own using the git-scm website documentation, which is linked below. The goal of this setup was to use minimal RAM. As a bonus of setting up my own git server, I now know a lot more about how git works, much more than I learned in the 11 years before.
For viewing my git projects online, I made a static gemtext file generator for browsing through git repositories. That project is called Muninn and can be found at the link below. It's heavily inspired by stagit, which generates static html and gophermap files. Another program I wrote, Huginn, converts the gemtext files into html and gophermap files.
Note taking / Calendar Marking
I used to use document files on my phone to make notes of things or to write down calendar events. My current setup is a lot more analog now. I make and carry small notebooks made of scrap cardboard and scrap paper that I can write in. When I'm out in a lot of cases, I will carry one of those notebooks and a pencil with me in case an idea pops into my head that needs to be written down. It's definitely obvious to anyone that sees these notebooks that they're handmade, as most of them I have made so far use a Busch Light 24-pack case for the cover, although I have used some posters I didn't care about as covers as well.
For calendar events, I now use a physical calendar. That's how folks did things for a lot of the 1900s. If it worked for them, it'll work for me!
Earlier in the year, my fake leather wallet ended up falling apart (was a cheap wallet so wasn't exactly sturdy), so I made a new wallet based on my favorite wallet to date so far. The wallet design is incredibly simple! Cut a rectable of cardboard that is a little bit bigger than the size of a credit card and wrap a rubberband or hairband around the long side of the rectangle. I even used some junk mail to make a little "money pouch" that's just a 3.5in by 5in rectangle folded in half (resulting in a 3.5in by 2.5in rectangle) to hold cash in so it wouldn't slip from the rubberband.
When the cardboard wears out, I just cut a new rectangle of cardboard and throw the old one in with the paper recycling. A benefit of using cardboard as well is that I can easily write on it with a pen, so I mark off eighths of inches and quarters of centimeters.
This isn't a simplification, but I made a webring this year. The ring is pretty small so far, with only 4 sites (including my own site), but I'm happy to have the webring created.
Passwords / One-Time Passwords
Only a few years ago, I had about 150 accounts that all had unique passwords. At its worst, it probably got close to 200 accounts... Folks in information security would frequently say "Don't resuse passwords. Use a password manager." which a decent amount of folks seemed to actually listen to. This is good, but also meant that folks didn't have to worry about how many accounts they have anymore, so every company started requiring you to sign up for an account on their site...
Now I'm down to 21 account passwords and 5 time based one-time password setups. For managing these, I created a program and a file format for storing the passwords and totp data. The program is called Fulla. I know it's generally a bad idea to work on things related to security, but there were a few requirements I needed met that weren't met with other projects at the same time:
- Password/TOTP vault files need to be small so I can make physical paper backups of the files as QR codes that can be printed and laminated so I can have the backups stored in different locations besides my own home and harddrive
- File specification needs to be simple yet secure so I can recover the passwords/totp data from the paper QR codes in the case of an emergency (like if my place set on fire, heaven forbid)
- Must work in an offline only environment in case my laptop is the only thing I can use
- Must work on Plan9 in case my laptop is the only thing I can use
The Fulla git repository is linked below:
I also created an offline way to generate random passwords using only dice with the goal of creating short passwords (diceware passwords are quite long) that meet password strength requirements for most sites and attempt to be minimally ambiguous when writing the password down on paper and trying to read the password you wrote down on paper later. A link to a journal post talking about the system is linked below:
For the first time in quite a while, I had the patience to read some books. I didn't read a lot of books, but this is better than the past 13 years for me. The books I read this year are (sorry for how small the list is):
- "Turtles All the Way Down" by John Green
- "Beowulf: A New Verse Translation" by Seamus Heaney
- "How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor's Guide" by Howard Mohr
I also started reading "Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger's" by John Elder Robison, but other things got in the way for me to finish it so far. I'll probably pick it back up around February and finish it.
Website / Gemini Capsule / Gopherhole
My website is first and foremost a Gemini Capsule that just so happens to be a Gopherhole and Website. Managing the minimal specification of Gemini makes creating content easier for me and honestly much more fun. Text is the first-class citizen and I'm also slightly pressured in a simple way to provide a text description for image links and preformatted text. This all helps a lot with accessibility. I even set up a text-only version of my website that only loads the single HTML resource when loading a page instead of fetching images and CSS. Setting my website up in these ways allows essentially every page on my website to be very small and work on slow internet connections. That's even without compressing data or minifying HTML or CSS data! All in all, my website has never been more human friendly than it is now!
Self Hosting Web/Gemini/Gopher Server
I was paying about $7 a month to keep my webserver running before a few months ago. I decided I wanted full control of the server, including kernel and OS, so I decided to set up a Raspberry Pi 2B and self-host my server. The energy footprint of my server is impressively tiny and having it self hosted means I was able to set up iptable rules without worrying too much about locking myself out of the Raspberry Pi if I set up the rules in the wrong order.
Maintaining the server was no more difficult than maintaining the VPS I had on Digital Ocean and I have the benefit of owning my data. Another benefit is that I was able to close my Digital Ocean account and lower my password count!
This isn't a simplification... in fact, it technically makes my site more complicated, but I decided to add more text resources to my site, including a wiki, cooking recipes, and Sun/Moon calculation data (like eclipses, equinoxes and solstices, and moon phases). This has a 2-fold benefit of being an easy to access set of transcribed data for me and being publicly available for others who might want this info.
I have been playing quite a bit of Sudoku from cheap sudoku books. The Sudoku puzzles in the bendon branded books are very good and I'm honestly honest what their process of generating puzzles is, as a lot of online Sudoku puzzles are considerably easier than these puzzles. Making Sudoku puzzles is hard, as you have to generate a solved puzzle first which is a bit computationally intensive for a good puzzle. Many Sudoku apps seem to use a cheap and easy algorithm to generate a solved puzzle that you can accidentally reverse engineer, at least subconsciously a bit. The bendon branded puzzles seem to be properly random, so even "Easy" puzzles end up being harder than "Hard" and "Very Hard" puzzles from apps. These keep me busy for quite a while. I didn't expect to do a Sudoku puzzle book review, but 10 out of 10... would recommend bendon branded sudoku puzzle books if you spot one at a grocery store!
Only a few days ago, I got back into crocheting. Currently I'm working on a Skjoldehamn hood doing a Celtic Weave crochet stitch for every piece of the hood. The front square will be brown while the rest of the hood will be heather gray. I might add some black rows to the front of the hood to accent the face opening a bit. My goal is to have it finished before sunset on January 24th for Jolablot (Yule ritual). Because I live in a frozen hellscape of a state (Minnesota) that has harsh Winters, I hope to get a gaiter, a hat, and some gloves/mittens crocheted as well.
Before writing this journal post today, I thought I wouldn't be writing much, but looking back on things, quite a lot of things happened. This year wasn't particularly exciting for me, but I'm happy about the things I did and changed. I purposefully didn't make any New Year resolutions so I wouldn't feel like crap if I missed things. This thankfully let me have a pretty low key year of progress.
I did make essentially New Year resolutions for this new Norse Pagan year, but I consider that to be a bit different. You can read my oath at the following link. It's something I was already working on before the Norse Pagan year change and something I think about constantly, especially on clear nights.