How Little Can You Get By With?

The less technology your life requires the better your life will be.

That’s not to say technology is bad, but I encourage you to spend some time considering the technologies you use and making sure you choose the things you use rather than accepting everything marketed at you. Also remember that every technology has trade offs and unintended consequences. There is no win-win, it’s always a trade off at best.

This is not my idea. I stole it from the Amish. The Amish have a reputation for being anti-technology, but they’re not. Try searching for “Amish compressed air tool conversion” if you don’t believe me. The Amish don’t rush out and get the latest thing, that much is true. They take their time adopting any new technology. They step back, detach, and evaluate new technology — what benefits does it have? What drawbacks does it have? They are actually more engaged with technology than you and I, and this allows them to make better-informed decisions about which technologies to use and which to avoid.

That’s what I try to do. I take my time. If a technology is good today, it’ll be good five years from today. And I am always trying to get by with less, if for no other reason than this stuff costs money. Still, for better or worse. Here are the main tools I use in building this site and living on the road.


Notebook and Pen, Pencil and Paper

My primary “device” is my notebook. I have two notebooks. One is called a Traveller’s notebook. It’s refillable. The other is smaller and it lives in my pocket at all times and is filled with illegible scribbles that I attempt to decipher later. This one I mainly write in pencil, and I stick post-it notes into the actual notebook so that I can then move the post-it notes to the larger notebook where I write them again. This larger notebook is a mix of notes and sketches, as well as a sort of captain’s log, though I don’t write in with the kind regularity real captains do. Or that I imagine captains do.

I used to be picky about pens, I had a couple of fancy ones, but I lost them and learned my lesson. I sat down and forced myself to use basic cheap, black ink, Bic-style ballpoint pens until they no longer irritated me. And you know what? Now I love them, and that’s all I use — any ballpoint pen. Ballpoint because it runs less when it gets wet, which, given how I live, tends to happen. The truth though is that I usually write with a pencils because I like to erase things. I use a Pentel P209 with .9mm lead because the heavier lead doesn’t break. These are easy to find at any office supply store.


I love Thinkpads and have used a few. Currently I have a Lenovo T14 gen 1, which I got off eBay for $455. It runs Linux because everything else sucks a lot more than Linux. Which isn’t too say that I love Linux. It could use some work too. But it sucks a whole lot less than the rest. I run Arch Linux, which I have written about elsewhere. I was also interviewed on the site Linux Rig, which has some more details on how and why I use Linux.



I use a Sony A7Rii. It’s a full frame mirrorless camera. The main appeal for me was that you can adapt legacy lenses — AKA, manual focus lenses from back in the day — and use them at the their proper focal length. Without the old lenses I find the Sony’s output to be a little digital for my tastes. If I wasn’t using old lenses I’d get the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and the first gen 23mm f/1.4 lens.

I also have a Nikon FE2 film camera with either Tri-X or T-Max 3200 in it, and a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 518/16, a 6x6 medium format camera from the 1950s (also usually loaded with Tri-X).


All of my lenses are old and manual focus, which I prefer to autofocus lenses. I am not a sports or wildlife photographer so I have no real need for autofocus. Neither autofocus nor perfect edge to edge sharpness are things I want in a lens. I want a lens that reliable produces what I see in my mind.

One fringe benefit of honing your manual focus skills1 is that you open a door to world filled with amazing cheap lenses. I have shot Canon, Minolta, Olympus, Nikon, Zeiss, Hexanon, Tokina, and several weird Russian Zeiss clones.

These days I have whittled my collection down to these lenses:

  • Nikon 50mm f/1.4
  • Nikon 28mm f/2.8
  • Nikon 20mm f/4

I keep the 50mm on there about 80 percent of the time, with the 28mm for wide scenes, and the 20mm for inside the bus. I also have a Fujifilm X70 camera for times when the DSLR is too much.


In addition to the photo gear above, which I also use for video, I have GoPro Hero 12. I mostly use it while driving the bus to make movies like this: Notes From the Road.


I like to record ambient sound. I use an Olympus LS-10 recorder, which has the lowest noise floor I can afford (it was $100 on eBay). I use a couple of microphones I made myself and occasionally a wireless Rode mic.

And there you have it. I am always looking for ways to get by with less, but after years of getting rid of stuff, I think I have reached something close to ideal.

  1. If you’ve never shot without autofocus don’t try it on a modern lens. Most modern focusing rings are garbage because they’re not meant to be used. Some Fujifilm lenses are an exception to that rule, but by and large don’t do it. Get an old lens, something under $50, and teach yourself zone focusing, learn how to expose, and just practice, practice, practice. Practice relentlessly and eventually you’ll get there.