Yay for disconnected operation!

Posted: Wed, 7 September 2005 | permalink | No comments

I'm a network kind of guy. A lot of what I geek out on relies on "teh Intarweb" to varying degrees. E-mail, package uploads, reading blogs, tracking bugs, and a wide variety of other interesting things.

Unfortunately, Internet connectivity isn't pervasive yet. I doubt it really will be for a long time yet. "Back in the day", when I was a poor desktop-bound lackey, the lack of Internet Everywhere didn't bother me. I lived with it -- when I was at my machine I had 'net, and when I was anywhere else I had neither 'net nor keyboard, so it just didn't bother me.

However, for the past few years I've stopped worrying and Learnt To Love The Laptop. I had 3 Tecra 8100s, and only gave my last one up because I couldn't stuff enough RAM into it to keep all the UMLs and firefox windows going -- they're a phenomenal device, and I love 'em. But this isn't about laptops.

This is about being able to Do Stuff when you out-travel the reaches of reasonably priced packet transit.

E-mail is easy. A queuing postfix server sending to my smarthost (a related topic: Yay for Linode!) for outbound, which dumps every time my VPN to comes up, and offlineimap for syncing my insane volume of e-mail to the laptop without losing it from the safely backed-up (and webmail-accessable) IMAP server. The ease with which e-mail is handled means that I like things that are e-mail based. Mailing lists are good. Web forums are bad (for yet another reason).

Blog reading is nice (although imageless). Liferea has a sensible offline mode that means I've got hundreds of blog posts (and anything else I can find on the web with an RSS feed) every morning for the train ride.

Most bug tracking systems are web-based. But the Debian BTS can be completely controlled by e-mail messages, which reduces it to a previously solved problem. Even the bug listings (recently made quite pretty by helix) which are on the web can easily be scraped down using the bts cache command. Whoever wrote that command will never buy a drink in any establishment I'm in at the time.

Thanks to distributed revision control (baz at the moment, in my case, but I'm going to jump ship soon, probably), I can do almost all my development offline, whilst still having full revision control and collaboration with other developers. I've just installed arch-pqm, which gives me the ability to merge into a central branch using e-mail (again, a previously solved problem). Unfortunately, arch-pqm is about as bongful a piece of software in it's installation procedure that I can't recommend it to anyone. If I end up using it at work, I'll probably package it and sort out some of the more insane problems, but Robert Collins may (hopefully) beat me to that.

But there are some people who Just Don't Get It. I can't do nearly as much with SourceForge-hosted projects as I'd like, since they don't deal with disconnected operation at all well. The trackers don't even like the caching web proxies I installed (although that may have been partially my fault, too). They do send watch notices via e-mail, which is handy, but when the URLs are longer than my screen is wide (for no good reason I can see) it's just that bit harder to deal with. And, despite the fact that it would be trivial to allow replying via e-mail to a watch notice for trackers and forums, you can't do it. I can't find any sort of web services interface for their system that I could hook into.

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