💭 Toby's tinylog

author: @toby@tobykurien.com

avatar: 🤘

licence: CC-BY-NC-SA (Attribution, Non-Commercial, and Share Alike)


Since about 2015, smartphones have been getting increasingly user-hostile and locked down. It started with Google Play Services, a permanently running auto-installed, auto-updated service that has full access and control of your device. One a new Samsung Galaxy phone, I found 262 packages pre-installed, which were mainly from Google, Samsung, Facebook, Microsoft, and the cell provider. I tried disabling some of them, and at some point the phone locked with the message: "Your phone is locked because the Device Service was uninstalled without authorisation". Ok, so I enabled all the apps again, but that didn't unlock it. Tried a full factory reset and reboot, and now the phone says: "Phone Locked. This phone can't be used without authorisation." Just, wow! We are no longer allowed to uninstall the surveillance and bloatware on our phones. #smartphones #bloatware #surveillance


My house got struck by lightning *again*, taking out the alarm system *again*. This time I decided to #diy my own alarm system with an #arduino. It's a bit of a rat's nest right now (prototype), but it works! Controllable via Telegram and standard remote. Gotta solder it up on a board next and add some lightning isolation/protection. There's surprisingly little info on the internet about replacing a commercial home alarm system with custom Arduino one. The biggest challenge is that the long wires to sensors can pick up noise/EMF so I had to do some filtering in software to avoid false triggers.




Shout-out to Podgrab, an excellent self-hosted podcast manager/downloader written in Go. #selfhost #podcast




Bought this ESP32-based Esplay Micro V2, and it is sweet! Not only is it a great form-factor and fairly priced, but it comes fully assembled with an SD Card loaded with some music and cool retro games. It's a #DIY #maker dream as I can turn this into almost any device I can think of! #esplay #esp32 #retrogaming #diy




Today's project: #diy battery for my 2015 phone. Original battery down to 6% of it's original capacity. Replacement battery costs only R90 and is readily available at hobby shops. Had to make an adapter plate using my favourite material: masonite board. Sealed it with a polyurethane coating. I've avoided buying new electronics and am still sticking with my 2015 phone and 2015 tablet as my main mobile devices because they are hackable in this way, and the software (after disabling all the bloat) is still running sweetly.





If you're part of the #TwitterMigration #TwitterExodus to #Mastodon then you can follow me there on @tobykurien@mastodon.social - I've been there since April 2017. Heck, you can even just stick the URL https://mastodon.social/@tobykurien.rss into an RSS feed reader. #MastodonMigration


Grey go-away-birds (AKA grey loerie) having a party in my bird bath! #birding



I bought this comically tiny phone in June and it's been my daily driver since. It has some amazing features in it's diminutive package: dual sim, microSD card slot, bluetooth (for calls and music, or to act as headset/dialler for your smartphone), camera for photos and video, voice changer (making it a great burner phone), 4+ days of battery life. Call quality is as good as on any smartphone, and it cost less than R400.




Made a distraction-free audiobook player using a Raspberry Pi 3A. Doesn't even distract me with a progress bar :) #diy




Book recommendation: THIS IS HOW THEY TELL ME THE WORLD ENDS, Nicole Perlroth. The fascinating story behind the biggest cybersecurity threats like Stuxnet, NotPetya, election interference, etc. Reads like fiction, but sadly it is not. #book

Nicole Perlroth



Here's a pic of my fridge-top Smol Data Centre, which I previously blogged about on gemini at gemini://tobykurien.com/articles/2022-05-17-smol-data-centre.gmi #photo #diy



Everything you need to know about #happiness, distilled in one insightful #podcast episode

Evidence-Based Strategies for Being Happy | Laurie Santos | Knowledge Project



Made an extended battery pack for my aging MacBook that also acts as a comfortable base. The 55Wh battery pack consists of cheap and easily replaceable 21700 cells. Plenty of space to add more batteries, USB hub, hard drive, or other accessories. #diy




Everything that becomes popular turns to crap. So now I have to ditch DuckDuckGo and find an alternative. No, I'm not telling you what I'm moving to, lest they get enough users to dictate their terms to us. #rant


Computers were "good enough" 5 years ago, and we're still using them for the exact same purposes. So why do we have gigs of software updates every week, and why do our computers get slow and "out-of-date" every 2 years? Where's the extra value from all this added complexity, compared to 5 years ago? Is it purely aesthetic? I'd argue that we're regressing, not progressing. #computing #philosophy


Photos from a recent trip to Hartebeespoort #photo #holiday





Birds photographed on a recent trip: Half-collared Kingfisher, Black Swan (in captivity), Giant Kingfisher . #birding





After decades of Ubuntu use, I've replaced my desktop OS with antiX. It's a minimal Debian system without systemd. Boots to desktop in about 5 seconds and uses only 150Mb of RAM. It's a simple system that I can get my head around easily and administer without unlearning and relearning things all the time like I had to with Ubuntu. It feels fast and efficient, and looks good too. For similar reasons, on the server side, I'm moving from Ubuntu to OpenBSD where I can.

antiX Linux



"Nearly all of modern computer engineers are working above so many layers that there’s no human way to understand what they are doing."

gemini://rawtext.club/~ploum/2022-04-05-firefox-ubuntu.gmi #computing #philosophy #ubuntu #snaps

The Theological Problem Behind Firefox in Ubuntu 22.04



Back in 2015, I predicted that once ad-blocking became common, we would be faced with server-side tracking:

You know what will happen once most of us install ad-blockers? Server-side ad SDK's, that's what. Unblockable ads, unstoppable tracking.


Well, it's here in the form of Server-side tagging in Google Tag Manager, and it's easier than the SDK I predicted. #adblock #privacy

Server-side tagging



Another one takes the red pill and wakes up from the Matrix - "I think the internet is broken - Chris Hawkes"

Chris Hawkes



These 3D printed computer terminals are simply gorgeous! #3dprint #retro #terminal

Modern Retro Computer Terminals



The #Smashwords website is nothing like a modern website, and I love it! I mean, you can download this #ebook I am currently really enjoying (Casual Computing) for free, DRM free, without creating an account, without popups in your face, right now, just by following the link. No user hostility, you can read the ebooks on any device you want, and you get to support independent authors.

Casual Computing: Light Reading for Users of Open Source, About Open Source



Did you know you can download all of Wikipedia onto your hard drive and use it offline? It's only 87Gb and will fit on a microSD card. Useful for distraction-free productivity for home-schooling, work-from-home, etc. Also useful for those with little or no connectivity or during internet take-downs. With the Kiwix software, it's searchable and you can also host it onto a local network with one click. Other useful downloads: Gutenberg books, Khan Academy, TED videos, StackExchange, Arch Linux wiki, WikiHow, and tons more. Might as well put your uncapped (or night-time) internet to good use. #offline #kiwix

Kiwix content



"Digital Vegan" is a deep dive into the problems with our current technology (Big Tech and social media). It's "a call to disengagement and more careful, slower, deliberate and thoughtful relations with technology". #book #recommendation

Andy Farnell



A free e-book on advice from a philosopher billionaire: "Almanack of Naval Ravikant". I don't agree with all of it, but there's a lot here to contemplate and dig into. #book #recommendation #philosophy #happiness #wealth

Eric Jorgenson



Nostr is: "The simplest open protocol that is able to create a censorship-resistant global "social" network once and for all." and "a truly censorship-resistant alternative to Twitter that has a chance of working" #nostr #twitter #decentralized




The latest incarnation of my #raspberrypi DIY audio player. Still a bit clunky, but it's now pocketable, and can run 15+ hours on a full charge. The software is now perfect 👌 #diy



A critique of Web3. It's a long read, but gives a good explanation of what the Web3 (NFT, DAO) fuss is all about, and then promptly rips it apart with some considered arguments. #longread #web3 #nft #dao

The Third Web



As is the trend these days, @ForGoodZA have updated their site to be far more user-hostile: cookie popup, 7+Mb of javascript, and tons of 3rd party requests without which the site won't work. All just so I can pick a cause and donate some money. *Sigh*


@deerbard thank you for the heads-up about the date format! I was confused about why my posts weren't showing up. I still need to track down where the issue is. I've gone full "digital minimalism" (see posts on my capsule) so I've completely dropped all social media (including Mastodon), and only browse Station, tinylogs, and Antenna mostly, since the volume of posts is low enough. If there's a website I want to read frequently, I write a scraper to bring it to gemini or add a feed to my comitium.


Why, oh WHY, do those #?@! nutheads use vi? (2007)

learning vi/vim is an activity that will take a long time (weeks to months), and that the first experience is not pleasant



I discovered the #Gemini protocol about a year ago, and it's still a thing! I spend way more time reading posts here than on Web. Check out this quickstart page if you're curious.

Gemini quickstart!



Beginner's Health and Fitness Guide

"I don't want to become some huge bodybuilder freak, I just want to get in better shape and look better. Should I read this?

That's what this guide is for. It's a basic guide to diet and fitness for beginners who want to get in better shape. "

Liam Rosen



This is a thought-provoking and insightful podcast filled with deep thinking about #crypto #NFT #DAO and the future of #Web3

The Tim Ferriss Show



Long-tailed widowbird and red-collared widowbird #birding #photo




This is an amazingly well produced, must-watch video about the influence of technology in our lives. #socialmedia #echochambers #isolation #chaos #surveillance




"You're Not Addicted to Your Phone. You're Just Distracted."



To get my digital vaccine certificate for covid-19, I have to use a government website protected by Google Recaptcha 🤦 This hits me particularly hard since I evade Google tracking, so I get forced into doing free labour to help Google train their self-driving cars. It's infuriating. Why don't they just implement a simple rate-limit if they are worried about bots?


"The Single Most Productive Thing You Can Do" #sleep #productivity

Grace B



This season of Formula 1 is the best I've ever watched. If you're not watching, you're missing out. The next Netflix "Drive to survive" is going to be epic!


So true: There's still no beating "git push heroku" for deployment. #devops




Book recommendation: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. #novel #fiction #scifi #space

Project Hail Mary



"A practical philosophy of health, wealth and happiness"




Surely, the mother of all unboxing videos: unboxing a quantum computer!

IBM Quantum System One assembled in Japan



I recently discovered the Coc plugin for vim, which brings VSCode-like smarts to vim. I can finally use #vim full-time instead of #VSCode, which has become bloated and slow over time. Coc has a marketplace with a large breadth of language support. In a like-for-like comparison, vim uses 500Mb less RAM (including language server) than VSCode for Python or Java editing (with intellisense), and is much faster. I also managed to set up vim for editing and uploading #Arduino and #esp32 code by integrating with PlatformIO.

Conqueror of Completion



A fairly compelling argument for publishing documents as PDF files rather than as HTML pages. #goodread

lab6 Issue 0 (PDF)



I blogged about how I create audiobooks from epubs and the like, using text-to-speech.

Creating audiobooks



Really cool online browser multi-player games to play with colleagues during lunch break:







The "Physiological Sigh" provides instant reduction of anxiety and stress and is easy to do, although you shouldn't undo it by resurfacing the anxiety to test if it worked! #neuroscience



Sampler is an amazing text visualization tool for the terminal. I was able to make a smart-mirror type of dashboard really easily with it. #text #console #dashboard #diy





Some photos from a recent trip to a mountain resort. #photo #trip





TIL: there's Android ransomware that works not by encrypting your files, but rather by showing a system modal window that cannot be dismissed by the user until the ransom is paid. Latest variants use machine learning: "TinyML model is useful for making sure [the ransom note] would appear less contrived and more believable" #android #malware #ransomware

Mobile randsomware



"Over a month ago, I came to the realization that my smartphone was having several negative impacts on my mental health... In a desperate attempt to regain some control, I ditched the smartphone."


Digital de-clutter



A great talk arguing that software is in fact getting worse, because of more complexity. (via alex.flounder.online)

Jonathan Blow - Preventing the Collapse of Civilization



Photos from a recent trip down to Port Edward, KZN South Coast. A really beautiful and relaxing place for a holiday. #photo #kzn





Instead of installing and configuring a heavy GUI app for my calendar and todos, I've discovered the command-line based pimutils. Once vdirsyncer is configured, I can use khal and todoman. Very simple, powerful, portable, and lightweight. #opensource #commandline




And here's a gorgeous screenshot of khal in action, if you're still on the fence about #cli PIM tools. #commandline #pimutils #khal



Book recommendation: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Talk about discovering the right book at the right time! After ditching my smartphone, I needed answers: why was it bad? what do I do with my time? This book answers that and more.

Digital Minimalism



By a truly unbelievable coincidence [...] I saw a small package fall off a truck ahead of me.


Turns out the software used to extract data from your phone when seized, has security vulnerabilities 😁 #signal #cellebrite

Exploiting vulnerabilities in Cellebrite...



I made a music player using the awesome Pimoroni Pirate Audio HAT for #RaspberryPi. It plays any format including OGG and even videos, remembers where it left off, buttons work exactly how I like it because I wrote the code, and it has outstanding audio quality (24-bit DAC + headphone amp). The UI needs work tho! #maker #diy #audio



Birds on a wire. They congregrate at this exact spot every morning just before sunrise, and disperse as soon as the sun rises. #birding



I let out some of my frustrations in a ranty response to a Github feature request for my app. I love that a user was invested enough in my app to write a long and frustrated feature request.


I sense your frustration in that the app is close to what you want and how you use it, but not quite there. Unfortunately the bad news is that I will probably stop supporting this app this year, despite this app being a labour of love and one I'm proud of. The above-mentioned sandbox leaks, combined with browser fingerprinting, supercookies, FLoC, and other hostile abuses of Web technology, have made me come to the conclusion that the Web is a lost cause for private browsing. Yes, WebApps offers only limited protection, and that protection will probably decrease every year. Something like Gemini (https://gemini.circumlunar.space/docs/faq.gmi) is probably the way forward for privacy minded geeks, and I for one am moving as much of my content creation/consumption there as possible.
Another factor is that Android is also increasingly hostile to the developer (you need at least 16Gb RAM to compile a 3Mb APK, every year devs are forced onto new APIs, Gradle builds break often, Google now wants your developer signing key, the tooling I had used is now deprecated, etc, etc, etc). Couple that with the spyware preloaded onto phones and the increasing difficulty of getting control over your device (e.g. my phone kills VLC after 30 mins and there's nothing I can do about it), and I'm ready to ditch Android and go back to good 'ol desktop computing (https://tobykurien.com/post-1618319359/).
WebApps Feature Request: Tabs



Giving up the smartphone (currently in airplane mode in the drawer) for a dumb phone. I want my attention span back. I want control over my computer. I want to eschew mobile computing for good old fashioned desktop computing.




TIL: trackers/spyware can bypass even third-party blocking and same-origin-policy by using CNAME cloaking. There's almost no hope of having privacy on the web, other than to resort to other protocols like Gemini.

Characterizing CNAME cloaking-based tracking



Not really about 5G, the article mentions ways that SAPS could get hold of your data. FYI My phone was confiscated and searched at OR Tambo without any warrant. #surveillance #privacy

5G opens the gates for surveillance on steroids



Great video with a LOT of information for privacy-aware smartphone users. Sadly, even us hackers have lost control of our tech. #privacy #smartphone

Spyware-Free Phones in 2021: We're being Squeezed!



Photos from a recent #hike near Hartebeespoort dam





I was recently treated to a visit from an African Grey Hornbill. Right on my doorstep!




A #loadshedding solution I've been playing with: Blue Nova 280Wh LFP battery + 300W inverter. Runs my laptop for over 6 hours, charges with standard car battery charger, over 10 years of cycle life, weighs less than 3kg, costs under R3000. #diy




WebApps is my #OpenSource #Android app I am most proud of. Many years in the making, it allows you to save websites as apps, with privacy-enhancing features similar to uMatrix.

WebApps sandboxed browser






Analysis of how Google's FLoC can hurt users.

"FLoC is meant to be a new way to make your browser do the profiling that third-party trackers used to do themselves"

Google’s FLoC Is a Terrible Idea



Not super proud of this, but when it's a choice between tossing out an old tablet because of a broken USB charging port, or an ugly fix to save it, I'll do the ugly fix.

MakersGonnaFix #diy




This article explains why a few kilobytes of macOS updates ends up as gigabytes of downloads and 45 minutes of updating.

Users are losing out against Big Sur’s sealed System



'People often ask: “What’s the next Covid?” An attack on our digital infrastructure is a leading candidate.' and other interesting insights in this great read.

Yuval Noah Harari: Lessons from a year of Covid



I have added a section to my #gemini capsule


for aggregating what people are saying about Gemini, e.g. tweets, toots, and now also the Gemini mailing list, where most of the announcements and spec discussions take place. You can now browse this on Gemini itself!

Gemini mailing list archive on Gemini



"Culture I/O is a website about utopia as seen through the haze of the dystopian present. You’re laughing, but we’re serious. There’s a manifesto. That’s how serious we are."

Culture I/O — The Road to Utopia



New blog post! In which I attempt to cure my #doomscrolling

My war on doomscrolling



FreeHacker is an ezine "created to help the spread of DIY culture in cyberspace". A good, if somewhat short read.

FreeHacker: Issue 2



This Sojourner #pwa is a beautiful way to browse and bookmark talks from the #fosdem '21 schedule.




Few years ago I moved my personal projects from #Git to #Fossil, and can recommend it. It is easy to host (single binary file), feature full (bug tracking, wiki, forum, etc), and all the repo data is stored in a single sqlite db (easy to backup). You can also allow anonymous access so that people can collaborate without creating accounts. That's 2 files you copy into a machine and you have your entire source control and repo up!

Fossil: Fossil Versus Git



My #Gemini capsule is up! It includes my #gemlog which is generated from my website microblog, which is also syndicated as tweets/toots via #IndieWeb. Very cool that all these technologies can play well with each other and are easy to script to my liking.

Toby's Gemlog



A well written blog post (from a Google dev advocate) about using machine learning for baking, resulting in inventing a new dessert. Much 'maker' spirit, such wow. #ai #machinelearning

Baking with Machine Learning



"This means in two to five years we may be able to surf the internet or talk on our 900 MHz phones while walking down the sidewalk in nearly any city whose occupants own Amazon or other competing devices."

We may Soon have City-Spanning 900 HMz Mesh Networks



Some thoughts on the #Gemini protocol:

1. Gemini is to the web what reading a book is to watching TV. The former is focussed, simple, requires some effort, and may be more rewarding. The latter may be more compelling but also full of distractions and advertisements.

2. Gemini is just text and links, which HTML can easily do, but by removing features (like CSS, JavaScript, and inline media), Gemini guarantees that your experience will be simple, fast, and user-respecting. No complicated issues like browser fingerprinting, popups, tracking, XSS, etc.

3. Gemini might be a good fit for disseminating information in low-bandwidth long-range mesh networks like Meshtastic, which might become part of our apolcalyptic/dystopian future.

4. Gemini is a good format for scraping web content or generating content for displaying on devices like DIY smart mirrors, Raspberry Pi tablet screens, Smart watches, etc.

Curious? Try this link below which uses a web proxy to display some random feeds from Gemini sites.

Capcom Gemini Aggregator



"These all use some form of local radio signal. Some, such as Briar, may use short-range Bluetooth and Wifi, while others use radios such as LoRa that can reach several miles with low power. ... Every item on this list uses full end-to-end encryption" #offline #messenger #lora #meshnetwork

Roundup of Secure Messengers with Off-The-Grid Capabilities



Awesome talk about the ideas and possibilities behind the Beaker Browser, a peer-to-peer browser. #beakerbrowser #decentralizedweb #dweb

Imagine This: A Web Without Servers (2018)



"On the Internet, your rate of learning is limited not by access to information, but by your ability to ignore distractions"

The Paradox of Abundance - David Perell



Bumper harvest of cherry tomatoes from my #aquaponics #diy





You may be in a quandry about deleting WhatsApp, because EVERYONE is on it. How quickly we forget that this was true of Mixit and BBM. We've moved before, we can move again, the businesses will follow. #deletewhatsapp #deletefacebook


Facebook really wants your data! The long term solution is decentalized/federated, like Matrix.

WhatsApp gives users an ultimatum: Share data with Facebook or stop using the app



My fav gadget of 2020: the LCD writing tablet. Costs under R200. 2 year battery life. Doesn't sync with anything. Can only erase whole screen. Helps me focus distraction-free on today's tasks and jot down notes.



Contact tracing is so dangerous, it gives governments an irresistible tool for tracking, surveillance and control. The abuse of the tech has already begun.

Govt confirms that police can use TraceTogether data for criminal investigations



Using some simple scripts, I have automated the process of publishing microblogs to my static-generated website (which uses #Pelican). It makes use of the #IndieWeb standard #micropub format, so I can even share links and upload photos to my blog via the Indigenous app. Now you can too!

IndieWeb scripts for publishing using micropub to a static-site generator like Pelican.



Now watching 0xcon talks from last month. #infosec #southafrica

0xcon 2020 - YouTube



Interesting new protocol: "Gemini is a new internet protocol which: Is heavier than gopher; Is lighter than the web; Will not replace either; Strives for maximum power to weight ratio; Takes user privacy very seriously"

Project Gemini FAQ



Tiny World is an amazing documentary with incredibly beautiful photography. Well worth watching. #tv #documentary

Tiny World — Official Trailer l Apple TV+ - YouTube



Pavel Durov, the creator of Telegram blogged this:

Consume Less. Create More. It’s More Fun.



Another epic Joburg sunset, taken yesterday afternoon. 😍



To be or not to be :-)



Raspberry Pi portable PC #diy



Flowers in the yard



Beautiful Joburg sunset



The #gpcoronavirus #covid19 dashboard has been updated with a powerful hotspot analysis provided by @WitsUniversity which will hopefully assist @GautengProvince with the second surge.

Re: tweet







My #aquaponics runneth over! That's cherry tomatoes hanging off the side, bearing plenty of fruit. #diy



Holiday reading for the geeky: NODE zine contains articles about interesting open source, decentralized, censorship-resistant and cutting-edge technologies.

NODE zine



Right, clearly that first post revealed some kinks that needed working out. Here are some kittens. #IndieWeb



First micro-blog post on my own site, which will hopefully be syndicated to social media via #IndieWeb tech!

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