Function over form

2020-05-04 @Lifestyle

The handiest and most pervasive of the tools I use tend to be open source hacks, repurposed technologies and experiments of bricolage. Some of these may not seem pretty, but they gracefully (or sometimes ruggedly) deliver.

For anyone aiming to simplify your existence, minimize waste, and increase financial freedom, I can only urge the same. When something mainly functions, when the shortcomings you can circumvent, make due with what you have. Emphasize the function over form.

Don’t open shopping platforms and foster artificial desires. Free the cognitive resources for more valuable pursuit. With a drop of creativity and a touch of ingenuity, you can usually leverage what you already have.

You also become more creative. You acquire new abilities in the process of tinkering; in the resuscitation of that meant for retirement.

Had I mentioned that the grossly decreased spending grants you increased financial freedom? That freedom that enables you to be more selective with how you live your life? Yeah, I must have mentioned it …

Sure, the lower expenses in themselves might not strictly suffice to reinvent your life to a magnanimous extent. But the elements of decreased anxiety and stress, and the newfound creative space produce, let’s say, an awful lot of potential.

This blue-colored Bluetooth Logitech keyboard that now accompanies me throughout enlightening voyages over a three-year period, is the most ergonomic and comfortable of any typing peripheral I’ve subjected to abuse.

This despite the upper surface having long lost the firm adhesiveness to the keys, having come to resemble the precariousness of ocean waves on a moderately windy day.

The deformed visage in no way impacts the function nor the comfort. Yet too often have I been advised to replace this unsightly heap of silicon because, well, that is the sort of thing one does.

I don’t mind the form. The function is of greater importance.

I once nearly retired a tablet whose touch screen ceased to function. Or rather, the touch screen responsiveness acquired certain stochasticity: sometimes functional, sometimes dormant.

Each ‘mood’ could extend for significant periods of hours to days … like a case of bipolarity. And this property made diagnostics and repair incredibly difficult.

It was then that I paired a Bluetooth keyboard (the deformed one related above) with the ‘broken’ device, transforming the tablet into a pseudo-Linux machine via the Termux emulator of which I’d then learned.

This keyboard-oriented setup rendered the touch surface mostly unnecessary, aided by the occasional USB mouse attachment. What nearly became scrap metal, turned into a functional machine. Function over form.

At one time I’d actively tinkered with a Raspberry PI Zero, the PI model of greater compactness than a Finish sourdough rye cracker. I’d used it not necessarily as a primary computer, but as a proof of concept that it could almost serve as one.

Most labor I required could be carried out within the miniature vessel, any infrequent tasks of severe computational intensity outsourced to something like VPS (cloud) computing instances. A USD $10 (not including monitor) 80% solution strongly appealed, in contrast to over USD $1000 100% solutions among laptops of nearly spectral appearance that some opt for.

As far as most of my preferred software solutions, they comprise of what I call alpha-tools and hacks.

They may break in specific, usually established scenarios. They may require some manual intervention or an external connector in others. Text-oriented and modular via Unix pipes, rarely has this been an issue.

Yet they function with mighty efficacy in the large majority of cases. That extends to tools for generating this blog, calendaring/contact/content/task management systems (all interfaced within plain text documents), journaling, web browsing, backup and synchronization and image/audio manipulation.

It fascinates me that one would use cloud solutions or specialized apps to manage notes or to journal, when such affairs need not entail anything beyond pure text.

My preference lies with the flawed, yet transparent and tinkerable, rather than the elegant, yet closed and proprietary. Offline over cloud-dependent. Distributed over centralized. Function over form.

See the tools I use for examples of the above.

Beyond offline plain text, I still use a paper-based ‘PDA’ to organize much of my life: a small stack of index cards joined by a binder clip; others organized in compartments within an improvised cardboard box.

The solution predates mobile apps, the cloud, thick clients, Lotus Notes, MS Organizers and Palm Pilots. But it demands no internet connection, electricity, or responsible security practices. The solution also demonstrates certain resilience to coffee spills, in contrast to transistor-based microchips.

The function over form dichotomy gives manifest all over the place.

Take meditation. You can practice it anywhere you have the opportunity to stay silent. It may take place next to your bed first thing, on the Bogot√° TransMilenio at rush hour, or the Bohemia of Avenida Paulista on a Sunday afternoon.

You don’t need musical aids or assistive mobile technologies to assist with meditation. In fact, I find the mere notion of introducing the digital to the pure ritual simply grotesque.

The cognitive benefits comprise the function. The form is the remainder. In my case, I opt for the simplest, least dependent, most versatile form attainable.

In exercise, likewise, I observe the emphasis of too much form. And I don’t refer to the good form behind your motions. I refer to the need many attach to gymnasiums, specialized equipment and classes to attain the benefits, ninety percent of which you can likely attain solo.

Your muscles don’t care what form or shape your weights assume, provided the proper stimulation; be it dumbbells, kettle bells, stones, sand, pig fertilizer, or the barbell I recently improvised from a broomstick with heavy containers of laundry detergent attached.

Same applies across the domains of foreign languages, formal education, gastronomy, technical skills and even public speaking. One can attain the desired function pragmatically, ad-hoc, on the street; this in contrast to the form-oriented strategies: curriculums, universities, online courses, accreditations, books.

The latter approach tends to consume disproportionally greater expense and effort in relation to the output. But it makes learning look good.

Keep the function in mind, not the appearances.

Questions, comments? Connect.