Alex's blog

I write about Free Software, tech, Linux and privacy.

There's one thing that hurts productivity, mental health and privacy at the same time – smartphones. In this article I want to describe how I approach those now.

I used to use the phone quite often but recently I changed my mind to stay away from those as possible.

Endless notifications

This one is quite disturbing. When something happens, you immediately get a push notification. And while it sits on the phone, it's almost impossible to get rid of it without losing focus from what I was working on. And sometimes you dig too deep and get lost for hours doing nothing productive.

On the desktop, first of notifications are broken for some reason ¯\(ツ)/¯ and secondly, I have a convenient keybinding Super + d to dismiss all pending notifications. I don't think you can do that on Android.

Privacy troubles

Cell network does a lot of tracking by itself but also every phone vendor and app is hungry for your data. And I'm one of those people who have a Xiaomi device (don't buy those unless you get a custom ROM).

I was actually quite surprised when I saw network logs on how system apps (and not only) phoned home almost every second. This is unacceptable so I installed TrackerControl in the first second.

And of course, I have all system apps replaced with Simple Mobile Tools.

I hate phone keyboards!

I use OpenBoard which is based on AOSP but it's still buggy as nothing else. I frequently hang out on #simple-web IRC channel and sometimes this keyboard makes me go insane because of the stupid typos and random bugs.

On desktop this will never happen as physical keyboards are much more stable than virtual ones.

(Not) Always online

Phones provide one super cool feature: you can be always online: turn on mobile data, run your app in the background, get notifications. I decided to get rid of that.

And it feels alright, I sometimes can miss the conversations for hours but it's still fine. If someone needs to say something urgent to me, they would just call me.

Dumbing it down

At this point, I didn't want social media, chats (mostly) or all those other things on the phone. I got rid of Tusky, NewPipe and (almost) Revolution IRC. So only things left are: Web browser (I use Bromite and Fennec), Termux, WhatsApp and system apps.

Why not throw it away?

After all I've said earlier, the question arises: did you throw away that monster?

And the answer is: Not yet.

Main blocker is school which requires to be on WhatsApp and there's no good way of getting WA to work without a phone. Otherwise, I could have just downgraded to a decent dumb phone.

In the end, I think that phones could be somewhat useful if designed properly and more as a mini-laptop that you connect to a screen and use like a PC and not as a tracking gadget that records your movements 24/7.

I like Matrix as a protocol but recently I started having a mixed feeling about the hosted service on


An open network for secure, decentralized communication

Matrix still accepts sign-ups on And it got 5x more activity recently. They would not have to deal with this issue if they asked users to sign up for a different instance.

For example, Mastodon site instead of directing people to just lists available instances and asks user to choose which one to use (

With Matrix it's a bit problematic as homeservers are not that much community-oriented but still they are sometimes.

CrimeFlare (the homeserver) uses CloudFlare for “DDoS protection” which will eventually let CloudFlare MitM everything.

Also by using it, gives CloudFlare even more centralization power. If CF goes down, half of the internet will break including That's not how web should work.

Please stop Element

This is not really a problem with but that's the recommended client. Literally everywhere you get an ad (not really but I'll consider such recommendation as ad) about EMS a.k.a. we host it for you, trust the experts.


Matrix is federated and you can talk with anyone no matter which homeserver they use. I'll leave some recommendations for providers:

Clients like mirage even give you a list of public homeservers for you to sign up on.

This article is a criticism of our favorite Facebook of coding by the name of Despite that, some points apply to other projects like Gitlab, Gitea or Gogs.

Proprietary software should not exist

Github itself is not Open Source when they try to push Open Source to the masses. What the hell?

Github has some secret algorithms for determining what you would like to see (in style of TikTok). One example: I have made some suggestions about note taking apps in privacy-respecting repo and after that I found a note taking app in recommendations. Coincidence?

Gitlab is Open Core, there are proprietary bits to it. Gogs and Gitea are fully Open Source.

Stars are worthless

Some people recommend to use projects with most stars. This is absurd. If a post (repository in our case) has more likes (stars) doesn't mean that it's good, it means that more people like it. Same goes for tags.

Also, this creates problems for new projects. Because home pages are flooded with those overstarred projects, no one would looks further and find something new.

How not to Open Source like a Pro.

Walled garden design

Drew DeVault's article covering this.

Github's contribution method is terrible. But new developers accept it because “that's what everyone uses”.

On Github when you need to make a contribution to a project, you need to:

  1. Create an account
  2. Fork the repo
  3. Push your changes
  4. Create a pull request upstream and wait for maintainer to merge it.

This keeps you on Github and gives them more centralization power.

But the same idea was copied by Gitlab, then by Gogs. And after that we got Gitea which is a fork of Gogs but they didn't change this model.

Together with that, using PRs/MRs model only wastes contributors' time. I can send ten patches to different projects while you would only finish your first pull request (more on that later).


So, if Github is so bad, what are the solutions?

The solution is simple: Email.

I know, some people think that Email is trash and ancient technology (they mean for 1-to-1 chats) but for things that will be public anyway (bug reports, patches) Email works great. It's an open standard and is federated which automatically prevents vendor lock-in.

The platform I was enjoying in the last few months is Sourcehut. It embraces Email for almost everything especially if you don't have an account. File a ticket? Send an email. Contribute to a project? Use git send-email. If you have an account, there are web UIs for that, don't worry.

Switching to email should also fix common bad practices: top-posting and HTML emails.

A: Because it reverses the flow of the conversation.
Q: Why you don't like top posting?

HTML emails are bad, they are used mostly by advertisers, full of trackers, have accessibility concerns and finally, there are a lot of vulnerabilities in clients. Features like text formatting and inline images are not worth that.

Please use text/plain for email.

Sourcehut flow

Remember the Github workflow above? Now look at how it works with Email:

  1. Clone the repository
  2. Make your changes
  3. git send-email HEAD^
  4. Wait for maintainer to reply.

And also, Git was designed to work like this. send-email is a built-in feature.

For tickets on Sourcehut it's even simpler: just send an email to ~user/ and you're done.