Title : Life with an offline laptop
Author: Solène
Date : 23 August 2019
Tags : openbsd life disconnected
Hello, this is a long time I want to work on a special project using an
offline device and work on it.
I started using computers before my parents had an internet access and
I was enjoying it. Would it still be the case if I was using a laptop
with no internet access?
When I think about an offline laptop, I immediately think I will miss
IRC, mails, file synchronization, Mastodon and remote ssh to my servers.
But do I really need it _all the time_?
As I started thinking about preparing an old laptop for the experiment,
differents ideas with theirs pros and cons came to my mind.
Over the years, I produced digital data and I can not deny this. I
don't need all of them but I still want some (some music, my texts,
some of my programs). How would I synchronize data from the offline
system to my main system (which has replicated backups and such).
At first I was thinking about using a serial line over the two
laptops to synchronize files, but both laptop lacks serial ports and
buying gears for that would cost too much for its purpose.
I ended thinking that using an IP network _is fine_, if I connect for a
specific purpose. This extended a bit further because I also need to
install packages, and using an usb memory stick from another computer
to get packages and allow the offline system to use it is _tedious_
and ineffective (downloading packages and correct dependencies is a
hard task on OpenBSD in the case you only want the files). I also
came across a really specific problem, my offline device is an old
Apple PowerPC laptop being big-endian and amd64 is little-endian, while
this does not seem particularly a problem, OpenBSD filesystem is
dependent of endianness, and I could not share an usb memory device
using FFS because of this, alternatives are fat, ntfs or ext2 so it is a
dead end.
Finally, using the super slow wireless network adapter from that
offline laptop allows me to connect only when I need for a few file
transfers. I am using the system firewall pf to limit access to outside.
In my pf.conf, I only have rules for DNS, NTP servers, my remote server,
OpenBSD mirror for packages and my other laptop on the lan. I only
enable wifi if I need to push an article to my blog or if I need to
pull a bit more music from my laptop.
This is not entirely _offline_ then, because I can get access to the
internet at any time, but it helps me keeping the device offline.
There is no modern web browser on powerpc, I restricted packages to
the minimum.
So far, when using this laptop, there is no other distraction than the
stuff I do myself.
At the time I write this post, I only use xterm and tmux, with moc as a
music player (the audio system of the iBook G4 is surprisingly good!),
writing this text with ed and a 72 long char prompt in order to wrap
words correctly manually (I already talked about that trick!).
As my laptop has a short battery life, roughly two hours, this also
helps having "sessions" of a reasonable duration. (Yes, I can still
plug the laptop somewhere).
I did not use this laptop a lot so far, I only started the experiment
a few days ago, I will write about this sometimes.
I plan to work on my gopher space to add new content only available
there :)