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Personal Tech Roadmap

Though I spend a lot of time staying on top of the world of computer security (it's my day job), it's only recently that I decided to make some significant changes in how I sort out my various computer and electronic needs. It's really a journey that I'm only just getting started on, though on the other hand I've got years of software development, networking, and security expertise, so I ought to have a leg up on this.

What I thought I'd share here is the road map, as I see it right now, for moving forward on this process. At the highest level, what I'm after really boils down to three things:

1) security and privacy (including not being tracked for commercial use and not being tracked by the government, at least not beyond the necessities of tax payment, which I'm fully in favor of).

2) Sustainability -- running the operation off the grid, or at least being able to without losing any major capabilities (except maybe printing -- printing is fairly energy intensive)

3) resilience -- Readers of this blog know that I see us far less likely to encounter some all-at-once, full-on catastrophe, but rather to be increasingly challenged by climate change and peak oil. The world where we throw all the computers out because you don't need them to raise potatoes and goats isn't one I'm bargaining for, so I want setups that remain functional in difficult periods.

At present, I think the best solution for this is doing primary computing on Android tablets and Linux notebooks. The tablets are cheap enough for one to acquire a backup unit or two, plus they run on very little electricity. Linux provides heavier-duty computing capabilities while notebooks also have low energy consumption compared to desktop units (though there are some very small units that draw little current but may be more suited for personal servers -- more on this much later in the game).

Android is preferable to Apple iOS because Apple just has things far too locked down. You can't install apps from a source other than Apple's, can't override core functions of the system, and so on. I have an iPad and I think using it is a terrific experience. Plus, the iPad is the most secure option for computing that most of us have available right now. But the tight corporate control over the platform takes it off the list.

Linux is preferable on the notebook/desktop side of the equation because it is open source and there are plenty of options to make it quite usable even on very old, otherwise outdated computers. Plus, it's not controlled by Apple or Microsoft. It's got a very good graphical user interface these days and most of the applications you're likely to be in need of (though not all -- there are some tradeoffs to be made here, truth be told).

The setup is designed to be affordable enough that one could, if one had the need or the desire, use a PC or Mac for normal operations, but while keeping private information out of the hands of corporations, governments, and hackers and having a sustainable, coherent fallback plan should the primary equipment fail in times of duress.

Figuring out how to get there involves, it has to be conceded, a lot of complexity, decision making, and troubleshooting. The order that I plan to tackle it--though the order may change as things progress, systems evolve, and so on-- is along these lines:

- Basic steps to preserve online security and privacy
- Options for more protected browsing
- Encrypting mail and sensitive documents
- Switching to Android or iPad for online banking and the like
- Running Linux on a cheap notebook
- Moving to one's own cloud (dumping Dropbox and Google Docs)
- Obtaining backup components and storing them
- Forensics and other useful tricks in troubled times

It doesn't look like much, and the first few items won't take long to cover. Once things really cut loose with Linux and one's own cloud, well, that'll take some time. So, best to get started, right?

Step one: stop using Google Search. Switch to DuckDuckGo.

Robert Richardson is the principle nomad here at the Mode.
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