Regolith Linux

The first GNU/Linux distro I ever used was MEPIS. It was a Debian-based distribution that came on a live CD and used the KDE3 window manager. As a first step into GNU/Linux it was a bit of a revelation for me, although I didn't switch completely for quite a few years.

Since then I've tried out a number of different distributions and window managers. I've been using Xubuntu as my primary operating system for 10+ years, and although it's my firm favourite I still like to try out new setups every now and then.

I'm currently trying Regolith Linux, which is a little different as it uses a tiling window manager instead of draggable windows.

Writing this post in Regolith Linux

Most of my work takes place inside Emacs - where I'm comfortable splitting windows - so a tiling window manager seemed like a logical step.

What I like

Feels snappier than XFCE
Everything from keyboard response times to applications starting feels faster to me.
Keyboard controls are fast
Switching to another workspace can be done with a single key press of super + <number>. There is also super + tab for switching windows one-by-one, and super + ctrl + space which opens a prompt for searching by open window name.
Low distraction
Part of my motivation for switching was to reduce the amount of distractions on my screen. So far it's working very well. This may be because I have to remember what's active on each workspace, so I open less applications.
Easy to test
Once I installed Regolith (via Synaptic) it was available to choose as a session type during log in. It didn't break anything that was installed or replace any of my default applications.

What I don't like

Steep initial learning curve
I'm still learning how to configure everything the way I want. It's all done via config files, which is something I like, but finding what to modify takes some digging.
Unlearning habits is difficult
This isn't Regolith's fault, but there's a lot of muscle memory for me to unlearn. Most things are the same for me, such as launching apps via a launcher instead, but having windows stored in workspaces isn't my usual workflow.
No desktop icons
I know, I'm that person that stores stuff on their desktop. I normally keep shortcuts for current projects on my desktop for quick access, but Regolith doesn't have a desktop (as such) so I'm having to work around it.

Overall I'm pleased with how it's going. I really like how easy it is to split windows side-by-side, which is something I do quite often when working on client websites. I don't know if it'll ever take the place of XFCE, but for times when I need to be more productive it looks like a winner.


My nineties development setup

I got a little nostalgic after looking at PADD a few days ago; there's a large part of me that misses how I used to write software. I'm happy with my current setup, but I feel I was a lot more focused when using a single-tasking operating system.

After digging through some old disk rips I found two of my oldest projects.

The first screenshot is the source code from Sonic's Adventure, which I think I wrote around 1996. It was developed in Power Basic on the Atari ST and was a whopping 455 lines long.

At this point I was learning that line numbers were optional. Apparently I liked weird variable names too.

Text adventure development in Power Basic

Next up is some of the source from Shining Online, written in STOS on the Atari ST. The STOS editor is not the friendliest I've ever used; it doesn't use GEM so there's no scrollbar or way to view the code without list ing the whole thing. I'm shocked I was able to get anything playable built.

STOS development

And finally, I spent some time setting up a more modern environment to develop ST software in. It uses Teradesk as the desktop shell and Pure C for editing & compiling C software. I have a feeling it would fit nicely on a Raspberry Pi 400 with a bit of tweaking.

New Atari ST development

It was fun getting back into the technology that I grew up with, and I'd like to try my hand at writing some ST software now that I (mostly) know what I'm doing. It might end up as one of my 2021 goals.


If I


"If I" is a one-man comedy special by Demetri Martin. The central theme of the show is organized around the following quote:

The un-examined life is not worth living.

It's very introspective and there are more than a few places that I can relate to. Particularly the fourth meaning of "if" when Demetri talks about using a points system - something I wrote about in "Keeping a Progress Log".


3 tips for overcoming procrastination

My three tips for overcoming procrastination are:

Break large tasks into smaller, actionable steps

Starting any large job can be overwhelming. It's easy to procrastinate when there seems like far too much to do.

A good first step is to break down the task into smaller and smaller pieces until you feel comfortable. Even if the task is relatively simple, dividing things up can help get over the initial hump.

The tasks don't have to be major parts of the project, and depending on the work required,there's usually no need to break every single thing down at the start either. Overly-complicated planning is another way to procrastinate on getting started.

A useful rule of thumb is to make each step a specific question that can be answered with a "yes" or a "no" to signal if it's done. "Organize notes" isn't as clear as "gather my notes for project X into a folder".

Use time boxing

Time boxing is the process of setting aside a set amount of time to work on a task. It doesn't have to be a large amount of time - sometimes working just 15 minutes is enough to break the deadlock and start making progress.

If I've been procrastinating on something for a long time, I'll deliberately keep the time short to get things going. It can be tempting to set aside a couple of hours, but this can make it harder to start as it looks like "plenty of time".

Make time for organization

I often find that when I'm procrastinating it means I don't have a clear enough picture of what I need to do. I might have do some research, read over more notes or just sketch out some ideas to clarify what the outcome should be.

Other times I'll already have the information I need, but if it's not organized where it should be it's off-putting to have to dig around for it.

Setting aside some regular time for organizing projects helps me to keep on top of things. I'm much more likely to start working if I know I can grab a folder with everything I need instead of having to search for things first.

Bonus tip: The two-minute rule

If a task comes up during organization that is going to take less than two minutes, do it there and then. Small jobs have a tendency to pile up and this rule helps to keep on top of them.


PADD

PADD is the first "proper" software application I ever wrote. I was 16 at the time and wanted to create a private diary on my computer, the wonderful Atari ST. Being a huge Star Trek nerd, I called it PADD (Personal Access Display Device).

It looked like this:

PADD main menu

It's not quite on par with the Starfleet version.

Despite its simple looks, there was a fair amount of functionality. It had a working diary, a notebook, an address book, and a lightweight tracker for finances. The application itself also had a login screen to prevent prying eyes, and all entries were stored on disk using a very simple encryption function.

I took some more screens which show:

  • The main entry screen
  • What an encrypted entry looks like
  • The financial screen

Unfortunately I don't have the source code available anymore. My talent for designing interfaces is about the same, but I'm pretty sure my coding ability has improved.