spaceflight, technology, anime, politics, and whatever else I feel like writing about

Emacs as Typewriter, Kindle as Paper

I wanted to write more, I wanted to read more long form stuff, I wanted a device that's fanless, runs GNU/Linux or Android, and has a mechanical keyboard. The Nexdock's keyboard was just not cutting the mustard anymore; as much as I like it as a fuck-around laptop when hooked up to my phone, its keyboard is tolerable at best and the trackpad is just BAD. Given that one of the things I'm grappling with is a pseudo-steampunk scifi story, one of those memey typewriter-ish keyboards and an Android tablet seemed like a good idea, along with Emacs as my editing environment (really my Spacemacs config I've been cultivating for several years), since my source files are all in Org. The problem is that most Android tablets are dogshit. No updates, worse hardware than an iPad, and at a higher price than an iPad. Frankly the only reason I didn't go for an iPad is that without Syncthing and a real version of Firefox my research mode would still require juggling multiple devices.

The hardware I ended up choosing was a QwerkyWriter, a USB/Bluetooth faux-typewriter keeb that comes with Cherry MX Blues, my favorite obnoxiously clicky mechanical switch flavor/color, and an Amazon Kindle Fire HD 10. Amazon's line of Android tablets gets a bad rap, but it's surprisingly well done. The screen is gorgeous, the battery life is good, and the CPU lets me compile small C or Rust programs when I need to without overheating - and for an Android tablet that's really all the relevant parts. The OS ships with alternate app sources enabled out of the box - all the Amazon CONSOOMer apps are already installed out of the box, and the device exists to get you to use them, so they've got nothing to gain from blocking competition. Good job, Amazon. As for the privacy angle of an OEM-firmware Android keyboard, I spent years working at Amazon as a developer, so I know they don't outright lie to you about privacy settings. When you turn off a form of "helpful" spying like search suggestions or Alexa, it actually does get shut off, and if you can prove otherwise, they'll treat it as a bug and fix it.

The setup process for putting Emacs on this thing was several steps, but it was no more difficult than on any other Android device, which is high praise as far as these things go. Normally OEMs spend time and effort getting in your way. I downloaded the F-Droid repository, enabled installing apps from the stock "Silk" browser, installed F-Droid, downloaded Termux, enabled installing apps from F-Droid, installed Termux, paired my keyboard, and then ran a simple "apt update && apt upgrade && apt install emacs", plus the other apt packages I need for my environment[1]. So now I've plonked my neo-typewriter down on a wooden desk, poured myself a drink, put on some period music, and written this post. The future of the past awaits!

[1]: For the curious: Git, Fossil, Python (for Pelican), Clang, Rust, Pandoc and the GNU Autotools.