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Researching various topics has me thinking about microcomputers, personal computers and computers in the service of people (as opposed to the other way around).

There was a huge increase in freedom when the microcomputer put programmable computers within reach of an exponentially larger audience than the existing institutional-scale machines. In a way those computers have grown back into the machines they replaced, and the freedom of users, programmers & operators has been repealed almost completely (how different is "the cloud" from the mainframe of yore?).

We could have small, personal and free computers again, if we accept the limitation that these computers can't do everything the "big" computers can do. We made that bargain once back in the 70's, and maybe it's time to try it again?

@requiem made the bargain with myself and got rid of everything except a raspberry pi that can run me a text editor.

It's working out for me.

@emsenn that's a step in the right direction.

I think we can go a lot further down as well. I'm still working on a way to prove it, but the gist is that I think we can get what we really want from computers using significantly less complex, significantly more open hardware.

@requiem I agree! I don't have the dedication or skill to seek out endeavors like that, I meant as an example of "I'm a consumer and I had a choice about new hardware and chose how you're considering."

@emsenn absolutely!

It's very exciting to see people making changes like that. I think we're all surprised to find that a little $50 computer can do most of the stuff we need.

I'm always looking for ways to entice others down that path :)

@emsenn indeed!

In fact I'd love to hear the story of why you decided to do it, because it might be helpful in finding ways to encourage others.

@requiem I'm working on a longer piece trying to explain it but in short, I had a conversation with someone I trusted to have an understanding of the ACTUAL hardware on the market - not dell versus hp but "we've got raspberry pi and arduino and laptops and desktops and ..."

I talked to them about what I need from a computer, and they made a recommendation, and I bought it.

That might sound "yea duh" but really, buying based on its fitness to complete specific tasks is not how we buy tech!

@requiem it's normally to say "well I need it to be a media consumption device and text editor and video editing machine and web browser and it needs to be POWERFUL and FAST"

And... do you really need all those in one device? Do you really need a device that does video editing, if it's something you do for 2h a month, and the difference then is an extra $300 machine that uses 10x more power while idle?

No, go to the library, use their computer once a month.

@emsenn exactly, or buy a Nintendo or a TV set or whatever...

@requiem but this plays into more holistically trying to represent what "means of production" I have, which I can develop, and which I should just outsource to society - here, text editing or videography, but elsewhere, making butter versus making cheese.

@emsenn Interesting. I wonder if there's a way I could make that happen more often by being that "someone"?

@requiem I've been thinking about this too and I think that's a big part of it: be someone in your immediate society who can help hack and engineer new solutions for people around you. Help them stop turning to the mass market for that, y'know?

@requiem A notion I've been mulling over is a "hackers union," or in another term, "we of little means:" local folk who are agreeing to work together to improve their means with what they've got and not much else.

I think this is lacking in all parts of our society, though, not just computers. I don't know anyone who I can pay as a buddy to craft me up a custom shelf - I can go to the hardware store but like they aren't gonna like it if I ramble a description at them 1/n

@requiem And I know it's just an absence of... doing it. Cause it's not even really infrastructure dependent, just folk... being better about offering and requesting things from each other?

Iunno, as I said, I'm trying to write smoething about this and really struggling, but my shift in computing is the fulcrum/metaphor of "we can do better, today"

Tangent, I think big part of it revolves around reducing our dependence on oppressive systems, and I've got a chatroom for talkinga bout that, 2/n

@emsenn @requiem and on the other side of the thing, we could totally build a custom shelf, but we don't really have friends for whom to do that any more because when everybody we knew went to facebook, we didn't

which kinda goes back to the original point, and imo points to the analog in this context of the car owners vs. coal companies question in climate change

@emsenn @requiem i mean we like reducing dependence as a concept, but the thing on which we want people to reduce their dependence is imo at least as addictive as nicotine, and cold turkey's a bitch especially when there's all the cigarettes anyone could ever want just right there for the taking

@emsenn @requiem and as we learned the hard way, nobody can be first because nobody will be second. it has to be widely organized so everybody goes at once, bc the habit is engineered to be incredibly sticky and to punish those who quit or who never take it up. preventing that imo has to be the central consideration, or it's just not gonna work; people will not only go back, but be glad they are back, and thus less likely to try quitting again

@alexis In some ways that's true, in other ways, not so much. I've recently taken to using a handtruck and milk crates to transport my groceries home and do other errands walking around town, and that reduces my dependence on cars, buses, and all the things they need - pretty much now the only thing I need is a decently flat path, and if that went away I could just swap out my cart's wheels. @requiem

@alexis One notion I haven't talked about publicly before that I'm chewing on is the idea of "shopping for convenience," this notion that things you buy at the store should be things that you could make yourself, or with you and the stuff in your buddy's garage, but you're buying it at the store because it's easier. This might help someone be more aware of where they're dependent on like, big systems to get by, 1/n @requiem

@alexis And even just thinking on it I think is helpful, becuase like, look at say, an LED meat thermometer. That's not something I can make, but it is just a digital version of something I can make, with... I mean let's say a strip of copper and aluminium and some string, probably? I haven't made a thermometer in a while. So is the digital thermometer a convenience, or not? and in that debate you point out to yourself the difference between this theoretical homebrew thermometer 2/n @requiem

@alexis and the store-bought one, and you begin to get a feel for how deep and intricate the supply chain you need for your conveinent life is. ...Sorry a tenant called me away and I can't quite pick up my train of thought here. @requiem

@alexis I guess, you see how dependent you are on big supply chains requiring many thousands of people to complete, huge systems like international freight, and that helps me, at least, see how much of working-for-money is just to sustain that convenience.

But even if I give it up, the things I do need - insurance, for example (not necessarily healthcare but personal property insurance) that reasonably should cost money, the costs of those things are super high because ... @requiem

@alexis the folk who provide them live very expensive-convienence lives.

And because of all the cost to sustain it... everything expensive and nothing is very convienent. @requiem

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@emsenn @requiem some of that is the older generation are not passing down trades like they use too. Its really cheaper to buy a shelf then to build one now days. The trades, crafts, and the willingness or need to learn it is dying off.

@emsenn yes

Something very essential to the first microcomputer revolution was that the people who were producing were the users themselves. Tools like BASIC allowed anyone who was interested to produce software that was on-par with any other software that was out there, and being interpreted allowed everyone to learn from one-another's work.

Later, as microcomputer software was "productized" this benefit died away, it's come back somewhat via FOSS, but now there's a stark divide between "users" and "programmers" that alienates a lot of people from participating in the production of the tools they need.

@requiem The day I got my rpi there was a quote going around from some maual written in 1984 saying "Applications are computer programs written by users to do the things they bought the computer to do in the first place."

And that definition boggled me because that's such a foreign concept to how we handle computers now.

@emsenn It is.

There's a lot of talk about how people should learn to code, but I think it's equally important that code learn to "people".

If you have to be an expert to make your computer do what you want, it's not really your computer.

@requiem @emsenn first: i'm really enjoying this discussion!

second: i think the thing about basic was the fact that right at the bottom of the machine was a simple, head-sized, immanent programming environment. which encouraged experimentation - and thus fault-free learning. an environment where the difference between executing a line of code interactively and adding it to your program was a simple matter of prefixing a line number to it - so you could write a program bottom up and almost accidentally, fumbling around until you had something that worked

that's what i miss most about the days of the Spectrum & the BBC Micro (and my Memotech, of beloved memory). not even the RPi gets back to that (unless you boot RISC OS, i guess, especially the Pico variant)

@thamesynne
The Pascal environment for the pi has some of those feels.

Hypercard on the Mac also had some of those feels.
@emsenn @requiem

@requiem @emsenn I place a lot of the blame on IDEs, frankly. They exist in theory to make development easier and friendlier, but in practice they mostly serve as gatekeepers themselves, huge complicated sets of too many buttons and knobs that intimidate anyone wanting to learn, make it feel like a nearly unknowable arcane art. They're like Photoshop, whereas folks who want to program should generally first run into something more like Paint.

@requiem @emsenn This is a really good point. I've rarely read better books in programming than the manual that came with my Commodore 64, and the accompanying programmers references.

They justified the existence of the computer and made programming something that anyone could start doing.

@requiem @emsenn I don't meant to butt in, but I'm going to.

I've been working on a series of blogposts about what computing can be done with various levels of old tech, and with various levels of new microcontrollers and similar hardware.

The titles in the series:
What are computers for?
What is MY computer for?
What is a Personal Computer?
How can I make my computer more personal?

I've been working on a couple of these for a long time, and some of them not for very long at all.

@ajroach42 I almost tagged you repeatedly in the conversation don't consider it butting in lol. @requiem

@emsenn @requiem Anyway, what's come out of this is that I end up writing about agency with reference to computers and customization and how the best tool for a given job is almost always one that doesn't exist yet.

It's turned in to a Big thing, and I keep finding more things to say, so I keep not saying them.

But conversations I've had with Emsenn specifically have led me to realize that telling people things is useful and powerful.

@ajroach42 It perpetually amazes me how, with so much written, there's so many topics there's no information on, like these. @requiem

@emsenn @requiem Sometimes you can find stuff written on the subject if you look in the right places, but discovery is an issue. Even if the thing exists, we might never find it.

So, we write for one another, we share with one another, we site one another. We grow together.

@ajroach42 @requiem @emsenn (waiting for someone to organize a fediversal brown-bag talk series on these topics tbh)

@djsundog @emsenn @requiem Is there a not horrible, reasonably ethical, open source video chat or live stream application with support for large groups?

I'd love to start a monthly series of lunches with presentations on personal computing.

@ajroach42 @requiem @emsenn @djsundog I've been using meet.jit.si which is OSS but I think the only 1:many support it has is to stream thru youtube. other than that it's pretty great.

@technomancy @djsundog @emsenn @requiem @qwazix thanks for the Jitsi recommendation. I'll look in to it and see if it's workable for what I had in mind.

@emsenn "Brown bag" is an informal meeting / seminar series. Usually scheduled for lunch time. People bring their own lunches, typically, hence, "brown bag".

@ajroach42 @technomancy @djsundog @requiem @qwazix

@emsenn @qwazix @requiem @djsundog @technomancy Oh, sorry.

It's a term a lot of offices use for informal presentations over lunch.

In this case, it would be a regular get together in a video call, where one or two of us present thoughts on or computers, recent progress we have made with specific technologies, techniques, etc.

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@ajroach42 @technomancy @djsundog @emsenn @requiem @qwazix if you are willing to try a few communications options and don’t mind me also butting in, Jami has really come a long way. Although I think there isn’t an easy “share link” option, which would make it useless if the idea is to make it easily joinable by the public...

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@bendersteed @qwazix @technomancy @ajroach42 @emsenn @djsundog

holy shit yall, so much good stuff here to read, I'll try to catch-up but I'm almost totally swamped with this remodeling project.

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hackers.town

A bunch of technomancers in the fediverse. Keep it fairly clean please. This arcology is for all who wash up upon it's digital shore.