Wednesday, November 29

self-hosting, cloud disentanglement, windmill tilting, etc.

So my computational life is kind of a mess, and also is more locked-in to services provided by third-party corporations (subtype: gigantic, evil) than I’d like. I’ve spent years promising myself I’d become less dependent on the megacorps, but I’m still beholden to Google and a pack of others.

I’ve decided that late 2017 is as good a time as any to start working on this problem in earnest.

This is the kind of list that I’d normally write on a piece of paper with checkboxes, but I may as well document it here in case it’s useful to anyone else.

These are the systems I’m concerned with:


I’ve been on GMail since August of 2004 (I had to check this), when it was still an invite-your-friends service working to build clout by starting with nerds. I have about 9 gigs worth of archives; by volume most of that is probably mailing lists, notifications, and other machine-driven noise, but there’s plenty I’d like to retain. Right now I plan to keep this locally in Maildir form and use some kind of desktop client for everything.

There’s also the basic problem of all the other identities that get attached to an e-mail address in the course of thirteen years of heavy use. I can’t afford to delete the account in the short term, but I guess I can forward everything and spend months chipping away at all the stuff tied to it.

Difficulty: Unpleasant, repetitive, but well understood and achievable.

phone service

I’ve had the same phone number for most of my adult life. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to pry it out of the clutches of Verizon, but I’d like to. Even if that’s not possible, things I want Verizon to lose include:

  • constant knowledge of my location
  • control over the OS and installed applications on my phone
  • interception of most of my data traffic

I’m aware that any connection to the phone network will involve an unsavory corporate provider — I just have a special and particular contempt for Verizon, built on years of acquaintance.

Difficulty: Heroic levels of cat vacuuming, probably.

mobile os, apps, etc.

I use an Android device. At its best, Android is a pretty reasonable user experience, but it’s full of tracky shit and increasingly pushy about integrating itself with the broader panopticon. Every time my phone asks me to review and post photos of some random gas station off of I-25, or encourages to me to read a news story “based on your interest in Donald Trump”, I feel incrementally more alienation and loathing for everything our technical culture has become.

Since alienation and loathing are no fun, I would like to stop using Android (preferably without switching to iOS).

Difficulty: See above, re: cat vacuuming. If this is achievable, it’s probably in part by splitting the functions of a phone out into a couple of devices and just abandoning others.


I’m on my third or fourth Kindle, the e-ink kind. It’s convenient enough, but Amazon is doing its best to eat everything (including the publishing industry), and I would like to contribute less energy to their efforts. Plus I’m pretty sure future iterations of any Amazon device will eventually include an always-on microphone, and I am not interested.

Difficulty: I think there’s other hardware out there, and other marketplaces for e-books. Also, paper mostly still has better ergonomics, aside from weight and bulk. But then most of my book reading happens in an easy chair or a bathtub, not on an airplane.

laptop and desktop hardware

Some set of world-historically stupid assholes at Intel decided that it would be a good idea to install a full-blown operating system completely outside of end-user control on most of the chipsets they’ve sold for the last decade, so it’s even less possible than naive paranoia would suggest to trust the hardware I own.

Difficulty: Fucked. I can do quite a bit using relatively open single-board ARM machines like the Beaglebone or the Novena, but I can’t easily escape from the need for a system robust enough to run a bunch of modern web apps.

Further notes to come as I tackle these.