QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded
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Justine Haupt has built a very impressive rotary cellphone for herself. It's stunning. Impressive. Clever.

And not at all what I want in a phone.

For years I avoided getting a "smart" phone and made do with the low-end of the market. A Nokia slab. An Audiovox flip phone that would not die, but was carrier locked. A Samsung flip phone that I could use on the "family plan".

I never found the phone I really wanted. I still haven't seen it. But I did find a phone that I found really cool. And I got that.

What I want from a phone is basically extreme rugged construction plus fully open source, and upon seeing Ms Haupt's work I feel I should also add in "and gives me a decent Unix shell". I experimented with a Firefox Phone as a wifi-only device. It was okay software-wise, but clearly needed more work. Hardware-wise, that was junk. At the time I had that, I also hadn't realized the sheer joy of a portable Unix.

I haven't tried Pinephone or Librem. I do have another product from Pine64 and the Venn diagram of rugged and Pine64 appears to be two non-overlapping circles. To them low price trumps rugged everyday. I can see where their coming from, but it is not going in my pocket — it will be destroyed.

Librem is more interesting. They clearly don't care about weight or price, so there's a chance it's got some ruggedness. The price is still too dear for me to buy as a play-with-whim, but I'm interested.

So what did I get? I got a Cat. Specifically an S60, with the built-in FLIR thermal camera. And then about two years later replaced it with an S61, which has built-in FLIR thermal camera, a volatile organtic chemical (VOC) sensor, and a laser tape measure. I don't use the tape measure much, but I do track air quality with it. My big complaint is VOCs are only part of air quality: there's particulate matter (notably from wildfire smoke) and ozone, which I find fairly unpleasant. But I've often wondered about how high the ozone has to be before I notice.

And on those Cat Phones, I've installed Termux. I love being able to compile and run new software on my phone, even if I don't actually develop much on the device. I've mostly written shell and Perl scripts on the go, but I did get trn4 working, which involved some C hacking. One of the trickiest parts of getting the heir of Larry Wall's rn news reader running was the very deep assumption Wall made in thinking /bin/sh will always exist, even if the features it has may very. Termux has sh, but it's in a different directory... There were a few other issues like passwd files not existing, but they were easy fixes in the C. That code is very rugged against missing things on the system and is, eg, fully prepared to deal with getpwent() doing something useless. I just had to make it not call getpwent() at all.

But yeah, a rugged always connected Unix (and Linux is fine, but not the only thing I'd accept) device, probably with an okay camera, that maybe could also take calls that fits in my pocket. That's what I want. A rugged device that makes phone calls and not much else, no, cool as it is, no.

Tim Hunkin: engineer * cartoonist


Lots of good stuff here. Specialty arcade machines, like a photo booth equipped to distract you while the photo is taken (eg by dropping the seat, or blowing cold air at you); notes and shots for 'The Secret Life of Machines' television program; homemade cameras; various large clocks, etc.

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