Getting a linux laptop as a non-computer expert. What if you’re really sick of Apple and Microsoft?

So after my laptop was stolen, I was in the market for a new laptop. Should I get a second hand one? (painful as I had just lost one! Probably someone else is buying my second hand laptop as we speak).

Should I even get a desktop? But I do like reading webcomics working on the sofa, or on the train, or anywhere, so a laptop it was.

Should I get a Mac or a PC? Unfortunately, I have completely bought in to all that stupid advertising that makes Apples seem cool and better, and they are pretty glossy. Plus, I always wanted a Macbook Air and that is now the basic version.

But I don’t feel Apple has any good options. I paid £1000 for a PowerBook four years ago, but now they cost £1200 because they are the better version while the Macbook air is the basic version, but because that’s solid state memory, I have to pay extra just to have the same amount of memory (which to be fair is plenty, and nobody even quotes the memory anymore, but I grew up in an era when more memory was cool. When my first laptop had 40GB storage, that was a big deal and my friends were impressed [one friend]. It’s quite funny to root around in my brain and see where this idea, that more memory is cool, comes from).

At least the Mac book Air has a few ports, but the Powerbook only has the new USB3 ports. I’d say power, headphones, two USB-normal ports and one thingy to plug in a screen or projector (HDMI or VGA) is the minimum a laptop should have. Apple computers do not provide this, so I’d have to spend money on adaptor cables (And then I’d have to store, them! It’s just more stuff to keep track of, they wouldn’t bring me any joy. Marie Kondo should give Apple a good talking to). Meantime my basic work PC laptop has got millions of ports. And no laptop has a DVD player anymore, which is quite annoying. I really had thought laptops were supposed to be getting better and cheaper, but I don’t get to even pick one. They are just getting more expensive and have less stuff. When are the economies of a mature technology going to kick in?

So having had PC’s at work all my (working) life and as I prefer Microsoft excel on a PC I did look into buying a PC, but I already had the Mac version of Microsoft Office software paid for (the thieves didn’t take the piece of paper the the licence was printed on so that was still mine). Meantime it currently costs £120 for a PC, so as the nicer laptops were not that far below the MacBook Air, I thought I could stretch to an Airbook (anybody who thinks I am wasting my money on a pointless glossy status symbol is right. Macs are so nice and glossy).

So, standing in the shop, just before I bought my nice shiny MacBook Air that I always wanted, I had one last question. Of course, the most widespread software in the world, Microsoft Office, that I only bought four years ago, is still supported isn’t it?

No. No it is not. New Microsoft Office software is £240. More than double what I paid in 2014, when it was £108. Apple is dead to me. I mean maybe this is not all Apple’s fault and it’s equally Microsoft’s fault. They’re dead to me too. Damn their rent seeking monopoly based business models.

So is there any way to opt out? Obviously, I’ve heard of linux, but I’m not an expert, I don’t want to spend time and effort and make my laptop my hobby, I just want a box, small enough to travel, with a big enough screen to work on, with a browser, and email and file storage (so I can scan all my papers and chuck them as they don’t bring any joy). Also some degree of a glossy status symbol! (It’s ridiculous, but there it is).

So I googled linux laptops (there are only a few out there). I.e. a laptop that works out of the box, no more different from an Apple/PC than they are from each other, and landed on Purism. The 13″ one is the same price as a PowerBook, or a MacBookAir plus Microsoft Office. The big, big, BIG selling point is that they will not spy on you and all their software is open source and verifiable by third parties. I remember how betrayed I felt when I realised that the Mac address book tool, that I’ve been filling in with data on my friends since I bought my very first laptop, is now imported onto your phone and freely available for any app to help themselves to. And you can’t export it to an excel spreadsheet (I did export some sort of wall of text version) and you can’t even delete people on your phone wholesale, you have to delete each person one by one! It was exhaustingly tedious.

Purism talk about how they are making their computers as secure as humanly possible and they won’t spy on you ever. And they can’t sell your data as they don’t collect it in the first place. Not having all my data sold to companies who want to use it to exploit me, is quite a nice feature in a laptop. As a tiny company producing laptops for the same price as Apple one of the biggest manufacturers in the world, that really seems like they might break open Apple’s stupid monopoly (which this blog should show: that monopoly is partly powered by my own brain).

Purism looks pretty good, I haven’t researched their claims properly, just the bits where they say it’s a laptop that works, and it isn’t a Mac or a PC, and it has a free version of Office. I never wanted to learn to use the apple equivalents, but I’m willing to put the effort in for a good cause this time.

So speaking of status symbols, that whole ‘being part of a movement’ idea is good enough for me. I’m assuming the actual laptop won’t be quite as smoothly glossy as a Mac, it does look fairly glossy, and I’m pretty sure the power cable will be hideous, but I’m part of a movement, and the computer won’t spy on me. And it won’t default to google which definitely does spy on me. Plus all the free software sounds good, there seems to be a free version of photoshop which is certainly better than the nothing I have now, (I used to have photoshop at work so I did miss not having any useful image manipulating tools).

I have to say, this is a bit of a leap of faith. I don’t think their online order form really speaks to the non-expert buyer (me) who has no clue which sort of memory to buy: M.2 SSD vs 2.5” SATA 3SSD (I looked it up, but I’ve forgotten. If you don’t know the difference, it means you’ll be fine with the default one, but they should still define their acronyms).

It’s not heavy-handed symbolism. It’s Art.
Harold E. Edgerton, 1964, Smithsonian American Art Museum

So see my next post on how to order from the US to the UK, what fees and charges you need to pay, how do you pay VAT at customs, after I’ve gone through it and figured it out. Then we’ll find out if the normal, non-expert computer user (me) can use a Linux laptop.

How to navigate police bureaucracy; Or, I’ve been burgled, what should I do?

Unfortunately, I got home on Thursday to find the back door open and my flat burgled. People and cats were unharmed and safe but I can’t say the same for my laptop (at least it was backed up).

It turns out if you are burgled you need to navigate police systems in the right way if you want to get the forensics team to visit the next day. Their current systems have some pretty big cracks for people to fall through. (I’m speaking about the metropolitan police in London).

This blog post is written with David Greaber’s book, The Utopia of Rules in mind. The book is about how we are so mired in bureaucracy we don’t even notice it anymore, and here I am, writing a whole blog post to help other people navigate yet more bureaucracy.

So I called 999 when I came home to find the back door open and my stuff rummaged through (I suppose 101 would also work, but they often have long queues and it really felt immediate and scary).

So I’m quite annoyed that after calling 999 at quarter to 10 in the evening, I didn’t get onto the forensic teams list till 2pm the next day, and then only because I chased the case.

It turns out 999 does not log the call in any meaningful sense. Instead the call gets put on a list and sent to the telephone team. These guys write it up and assign a crime number. It doesn’t land on the forensic team’s list or get sent to the local police until this happens.

The telephone team work from  7am to 11pm, albeit with reduced numbers of staff at the earlier and later ends. 999 cannot put you through, but 101 can.

So after you register your crime at 999 and get your call number, you need to go straight to 101, wait in the queue, then ask to be put through to the telephone team, so your crime can be registered with immediate effect and land on the forensic teams desk immediately. (However, if you don’t expect any action, like time my car back window was smashed in and my friend’s rucksack stolen out of the boot, and you just want to register it as a good citizen and/or to claim insurance, then don’t worry, that will eventually work out).

I called 999 at 9:44pm. They gave me a call reference, told me forensics would be out the next day and I’d get a call from someone in a day or two with the crime number. That was it, no further info. The next morning I called 101 at 8:24 am (no queue!) and they told me that I could send my laptop info to (or phone on 020 7230 3400, 9-5), which I did. CMS e-mailed me back at 9:07am to say I needed a crime-ref number, but no info on how to get one, I replied saying the call number reference was in the subject line and that I didn’t have a crime number yet. At 1:40pm I called 101 again to chase forensics (it’s horrible being at home but not being able to tidy up or touch the things that might have fingerprints) and to register my laptop serial number. Now 101 finally put me through to the telephone team who told me that they get 400 phone calls a day from 999 to register and my one was in the pile and they were working their way down. By phoning up I got my crime registered, got a crime number and the request was finally, at around 2pm, sent through to forensics (and the local police). One more call to 101 to chase that and they were, to be fair, there quite soon after (a bit before 4pm). A team of two people covers two London boroughs with about 10-15 cases per day. Which I think is actually quite a reasonably low number of burglaries for the population. So the annoying thing is that I called 999 well before 11pm and if I’d known I could have gone through to the telephone team via 101 immediately. Or better yet: why didn’t 999 just put me straight through! Apparently, they can’t, but why not? Or why not tell me to call 101 to be put through?

So if you have a crime that you don’t expect any help with and are only reporting so the police have good statistics, you’re fine. If your case is time sensitive, if you need forensics to do fingerprints, chase it via 101 . No crime number means it’s not in any systems yet.

24 hours after I got the crime registered and my laptop serial number put on the relevant databases, CMS e-mailed me back to say they had looked up my call reference from 999 everywhere and couldn’t find it at all. I’m a bit confused if CMS is the same or different from the telephone team. says if the perpetrator is found and convicted, the court can order them to pay you compensation to cover loss and damage. But, for some reason, you need to tell the police in advance. So do put your claim in when the police take a statement (and then keep receipts).

So there you go, I hope that bureaucracy wrangling is useful for someone.

This is what my keyboard looked like. Let me know if you spot it anywhere.

The calorie theory vs the insulin theory of overweight and why it matters

Our understanding of why we get fat matters because these two different theories result in different actions for us if we want to loose weight.

The calorie theory is that we get fat because we eat more than we exercise.

Obviously this is true. If you gain weight then you have eaten more energy than you used in running your body and brain and in exercising.

The question is: do the excess calories cause the fatness in a meaningful way.

Or to put it another way. When you ate enough calories why didn’t you feel full and stop eating. What made your body store them as fat instead of just running a bit hotter.

So is the amount of calories we eat and the lack of exercise all the explanation we need or is something important happening behind that?

Advice for overweight people based on this theory

  • Cut back on food. Especially cut back on high density food like fat (9kcal per g vs 4 for protein and carbohydrates). If you get hungry, when you eat the recommended food at the recommended amount (like my gestational diabetes friend eating porridge and fruit for breakfast), then that’s odd and weird, just keep going.
  • All calories are equal. It doesn’t matter if you get your target number of calories from fat or protein or carbohydrates. Sugar is no better or worse than any other food, as long as you stick to the right amount of food and get enough vitamins etc in the other food.
  • Exercise more.

The insulin theory of overweight and obesity.

Insulin causes fat cells to lay down fat. It also prevents us from accessing the fat inside our cells. So while insulin is high you have to burn glucose to survive. If insulin is high but you have no glucose, you are in trouble (also you insulin will start to come down now). If you injected insulin you might hypo, as it can’t go away. If your body produced the insulin you might be hungry, hangry or starving till your insulin levels come down (or you eat carbs), but you probably won’t have any more serious effects.

Insulin is raised by eating carbohydrates. Therefore carbohydrates are uniquely fattening compared to protein and fat.

The higher the GI (the glycaemic index) or the more carbohydrates are processed so that they can be very quickly absorbed into the blood, the more they spike up insulin, the more they are fattening.

The more you snack between meals*, the more your insulin levels are permanently high the more you are laying down fat and also unable to access that fat in case you get hungry and run out of blood glucose.

GI alone isn’t a perfect measure, if you eat very high GI food with fat, that makes it low GI, so chocolate, or nutella contains lots of sugar but are still low GI. Sugar itself actually has a GI that’s not too bad because only half of sugar counts to GI**. So while I wouldn’t call nutella healthy, I’d call it better than drinking the same amount of sugar in coke.

So the insulin theory of overweight suggests that you eat a meal and, due to high insulin, immediately lay some of it down as fat even if you would be doing exercise later. At exercise time your breakfast or lunch is already laid down as fat, if you have a little snack (of carbs) or a coke your insulin levels will be too high to allow you to access that fat, and you will need to eat more.

Advice based on this theory:

  • Cut back on carbohydrates with particular reference to what effect they’ll  have on your insulin levels.
    • Avoid starchy foods, i.e. bread, cereal, white rice, potatos. Even if bread is whole grain, the wheat kernel has still been mashed up to flour and it is still very easily digested.
    • Eat as much fat as you like it won’t raise insulin, so it won’t be fattening and your natural appetite mechanisms will soon have you feeling full. Bear in mind that ‘fat’ does not include donuts or pizza, as they both contain far more easily digestible carbohydrate (white flour) than they contain fat. Though the fat from the cheese/frying will slow down the absorption of that carbohydrate compared to if you just ate a spoonful of flour and sugar.
    • At the very least, enjoy the full fat version of your normal food.
    • Eat as much as you want, as long as you stick to the right type of food.
    • Avoid snacking, stick to three meals a day and consider fasting on a regular or occasional basis. This will get your insulin levels down and allow your body to access your fat stores
  • All calories are not at all equal. Carbohydrate, fat and protein are treated completely differently in your body (for example you can only get very limited amount of energy from protein so if your diet cook book says to eat low carb and low fat, they are just wrong. They probably man low ‘white’ carbs and high ‘green’ carbs). Sugar is different again because it is our only source of fructose, which will sleet into the liver and get converted to fats with unknown effects.
  • If you are on a high fat low carb diet you may well get hungry less often as the fat increases satiety and if your insulin levels are generally low, it’s easier for your body to then dip down into using up your fat stores.
  • Exercise is not directly relevant, except that it does use up glucose in your muscles and allows them to then take up more glucose from your blood. That is good, but you can equally just not eat the glucose in the first place. The choice is yours (of course exercise is generally good, but not that relevant for weight loss).
  • Pay attention to how much of your meal is easily digested carbohydrates (bread, rice sugar), more slow release carbohydrate (all veg which is still ~80% carbohydrate), vs fat or protein. If you have a sandwich, some popcorn chips and a banana for lunch, you will have gotten over 60% of your food as carbs. Our current dietary advice is to eat no more than 30% fat are you even getting that much?

Ways in which we know hormones work in other contexts.

When children grow up, they don’t get taller because they eat more than they exercise, they grow because of growth hormone. No growth hormone (or growth hormone receptor) no growth, no matter what you eat. Too much growth hormone leads to being super tall, cutting down on food and exercising more wouldn’t really stop that.

Women have ~21% body fat vs ~14% body fat for men, this is due to hormones, not because all women eat more than they exercise compared to men.

A friend of mine went on thyroid hormones and put weight on, the weight then came off when they came off the hormones.

OK, but what should I do?

So these two theories of why we get fat really determine what changes we try to make to loose weight (eat less and exercise, vs cutting carbs but eating as much as we want). And we can see that while some changes will match up (eating less overall vs eating less carbs specifically, also everyone agrees on cutting out sugar), some are kind of opposite (cut fat vs embrace fat) so if we have the wrong theory, we’ll have the wrong advice. If the wrong advice is just unworkable, and if someone is told to try something and it just doesn’t work, will they fell that it is their own fault they are fat and they just can’t change things?

So if you’re reading this and have tried one set of advice (eat less?) but are not sure if the other set could work (eating more fat instead of bread, rice, potatoes and pasta??) try it for a month? You should see the effects within that time. See if your GP will test your blood before and after that month too. Even if I’m totally wrong, you can’t do that much damage in a month. So have fun experimenting***.

*This could be more complicated, but the point is what is going on with your insulin levels is more important than  the number of calories.

**New blog post coming soon about why sugar has a quite ok GI (unfortunately sugar still needs to stay as an occasional treat).

***I have a whole blog post in my head based on John Kay’s book on why the rich countries are rich: disciplined plurality is key. Plurality means trying a different things, disciplined means stopping that thing if it doesn’t work.


New year, new energy, Some ideas for resolutions

New Year, new energy, I do like the start of the year (there just might be a link to all the time off I had at Christmas and New years).

I was thinking about some ideas for changes you could make if you were thinking of New Years resolutions. And  if you think the new year is an arbitrary time of year then, good news! you can also read this blog post at any other time.

  • Having decided the ‘rules’ you want to live by: think how mindfully achieving your aims and having a sense of agency is better than, say, the monkey brain enjoyment of a cheap supermarket cake that doesn’t even taste that good.
  • Enjoy mindfully planned exceptions. It’s not about never having treats. Plan your exceptions by imagining you are in the future looking back and decide if you think it would make you more or less happy to indulge. Then later actually look back and decide if you were right or not and what you will choose to do if the same choice comes up in the future.
  • Be fair on yourself. If you skip lunch and get hungry you will crave snacks and chocolate before you become consciously ‘hungry’ (I certainly do, I get a good 30-60 min phase of thinking about chocolate before I ever feel consciously hungry). If you find yourself eating junk food, think whether the junk food is the problem or if the previous meal was the problem. Look out for yourself. If you were looking after a five year old child you wouldn’t be too busy to get them a proper lunch and you’d get them home in time for a proper supper.
  • Swap to full fat milk, yogurt, etc.
    The fat will increase satiety in good proportion to the amount of extra calories, leading to more fullness and less need to snack.
  • Swap starchy foods for half the amount of fat.
    Halve your rice and put a quarter the amount of butter or olive oil on top. The same calories but more delicious and you’ll feel fuller.
    Highly processed starchy foods, like bread and cereals, crisps and popcorn and rice, will spike your blood sugar up and the resulting drop will make you feel hungry. Half the amount of fat will have the same calories, will keep you nice and full and will keep your blood sugar on a comfortable, controlled, even keel.
  • Alternate every glass of wine with water.If you are out a party and if you like drinking all the time, instead of trying to drink less, substitute what you drink. My favourite is apple-shorle. A little apple juice with sparkling water. The nudge unit (in David Halperns book) has advised for ecigs purely on the basis that a substitution is so much easier than quitting (and ecigs really are so much safer than cigarettes, though that is the lowest bar ever).
  • Substitute fizzy drinks with sparkling water with a dash of lemon and/or lime, or even just plain sparkling water. Obviously if I have a choice of sparkling water or coke, my monkey brain will prefer the coke. But you could reframe it as nothing vs a drink. Sparkling water is much more fun than nothing.
  • Consider drinking your coffee black, then it’s zero calories, but apparently it still has soluble fibre. Practically good for you, or actually good for you, who knows. Who cares! Coffee is delicious.
  • Substitute breakfast cereal with fried eggs, or boiled eggs if time is tight.
    Again this gets you away from the highly processed, empty calories in the processed wheat/maize (which is what every single cereal is apart from oats, and swaps in a vitamin rich food with the full range of essential fatty acids and essential amino acids). In case you didn’t get the memo, we’re not worried about dietary cholesterol anymore (I wish there was an actual memo, or people admitting that the old advice was wrong and presenting the reasons for the old advice and the reasons for the new advice. Let me know if you know find that).
  • Only eat cakes/chocolate when out with friends, never snack alone.
  • Quit all snacks. Eat three meals a day and that’s it.
    Saves time and thought. If you can’t go between meals without feeling hungry you are doing your meals wrong.
  • Mindfully discuss a desired habit change with a friend.
    • Figure out the problem (for example: I have lunch at 12, I work till 7, when I get hungry and there is only vending machine food available and I don’t want to spend time and energy on bringing cooked food in, also I only sometimes get hungry so I can’t bring in perishable food, as it would get wasted).
    • Discuss a range of solutions, when the first three ideas aren’t a good fit keep discussing ideas.
    • Answer: Ryvita and babybel.
  • One day go to the supermarket before supper. The next day eat a really good supper then go to the supermarket. Watch yourself glide paste those donuts on sale, with no difficulty. Everyone always said you shouldn’t shop on an empty stomach but when I did this experiment, pretty much by chance, I was really surprised at how strong an effect it was.
  • Only enjoy sweet foods and drinks as a dessert on a full stomach.
    Sugary drinks, including orange juice and fruit smoothies, will give you a massive sugar spike. Avoid the spike by only eating sweets on a full stomach.
  • Swap white for green
    Instead of boiling up pasta, what about boiling some frozen green beans to have with your sauce.
    The Swiss food pyramid caps starchy carbs at 3x 30-50g a day (p19). That’s three small slices of bread or three very small helpings of pasta per day. Replace white, nutritionally empty carbs with green vegetables (still 80% carbs which are slow release with some plant protein (not nutritionally complete without complicated mixing and matching, but still useful) and the water-soluble vitamins).

There we go: a few ideas for changing habits and some ideas for what habits you could change. Hope some of them are useful and spark some further ideas of your own. Have a happy year.