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Show HN: Pocket Puter (pocketputer.com)
89 points by DoreenMichele on May 20, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 49 comments

I've put a lot of effort into making my life work offline. As a foreigner, it's difficult for me to get 3G/4G data because my life isn't stable enough to have a subscription. Some of my favourite apps (iPhone 4S):

- Wiki2Touch (offline Wikipedia) and PlinyPedia.

- Galileo Offline Maps (with Google Maps tiles from MOBAC)

- Offline StackOverflow (my own project)


- Offline Bible

- MyWi (extend the range of a WiFi signal)

- A lot of other scraped websites (web comics, 9gag, FML, UrbanDictionary, shortjokes).

Regarding removable batteries, I have a Third Rail case which lets me attach a battery only when I need it.


I also have a lot of adaptors so I can plug in anywhere (mains-8 female to kettle cable, light socket to mains, etc).

Although I haven't slept on the streets for more than one night at a time (thanks, CouchSurfing), I expect that I'll end up in a tent one of these years. Before I can get that privilege though, I need to keep trying to work in order to maintain my visa status, or move on to another country that might welcome me.

Thank you.

I will work on incorporating your suggestions into the site.

Congrats, that’s a catchy domain name you got there.

I noticed it’s setup with a redirect, have you considered blogspot’s CNAME feature? It lets you host your blogspot blog at a custom domain like yours without redirecting to a subdomain.

The benefit is if you ever switch where the content/blog is hosted, any links/bookmarks to your site can still work.

They have a guide for various registrars (see below), but there’s likely a guide for whichever vendor you are using.


Congrats, that’s a catchy domain name you got there.

Thanks. It took some effort to come up with it.

have you considered blogspot’s CNAME feature?

No, I am not planning on using blogspot's CNAME feature. It breaks when you type in yourdomainname.com. You have to include the www for it to work. This is a bug that causes problems.

I would rather it just be a redirect for now. That serves my stated purpose in buying a domain name. Given the budget for this project ($0) and my own finances (dicey, at best), I don't anticipate changing to paid hosting. Besides, I am quite fond of blogspot.

I don’t currently use blogspot so I don’t know about that bug, or if they support multiple CNAME records.

It’s not obvious but, using the same mechanism that allowed you redirect to blogspot will allow you to redirect the bare “@“ record (pocketputer.com) to www.pocketputer.com

Just an FYI:

Since the last time I fussed with this, they fixed some of the issues that were problematic with custom domain names. One of those that I had forgotten was a security issue. So I do now have this set up as the actual domain name for the site and I think it all works without any weird security issues or bugs that I know of.

Thanks. I will see if I can't resolve it on an existing site where I am using the CNAME feature. If I can, I might do that here as well.

Thanks. Could you tell me a little bit about why?

You can use a static website generator and netlify.com, which is free and can be set up in minutes. I use it for my sites and I'm very happy with it.

In the "battery" section, perhaps it is useful to mention that if you have a phone with a removable battery, you can buy extra batteries (normally $5 each on eBay) and a battery charger (also $5) to charge two batteries at once. You can carry multiple batteries to extend your battery life to a week if you want.

Just a personal experience: I had bought several ~$20AU iPhone 4S batteries from eBay from different sellers, and while they started off okay their capacity dramatically decreased after a few weeks.

Also I'm unsure on how a device determines battery charge, but I forever had issues with the phone turning off while reporting the battery had ~30% left.

Maybe I didn't treat the batteries correctly, but I can't recall as this was several years ago.

I've had great success ordering OEM Samsung batteries for Galaxy S3 and S5, $3 and $7 respectively, that are still working after several years.

Thanks. I am just going to quote you direct for now and maybe edit it later. (If you object to that, I can remove it.)

What percentage of phones are sold with removable batteries these days? <5% would be my guess. Kind of irrelevant information really. Just stick to "Buy an external USB battery pack for $20 and remember to bring your charging cable with you"

There's 75 on that chart out the "600 currently popular phones" A bunch of them are obsolete windows phones and variants of low end ones. Under 5% by sales seems reasonable to me.

It might be a much larger percentage of "phones used by poor people." This project is aimed at helping homeless people and those at risk of homelessness. My hope is it also has some appeal for others, such as campers and digital nomads. But the central impetus here is to try to start reducing the incidence of homelessness in this country, which is at epidemic levels. This means helping people with minimal tech that may be on the older side and/or super cheap.

I have added both suggestions (USB battery pack and extra batteries) to the battery power management page.

I don't get it. I see a page with a bunch of large brown boxes and almost no text in each. Am i missing images? Am i missing text? I'm not sure what this sites wants me to do. It's asking me to support it with patreon or paypal but it is so far from even giving me a clue what i'm supporting or why i should support it

I'm with you. I don't know what the heck is going on. Someone fill us in!

This project wouldn't exist without valuable feedback in conversation on HN and from someone "met" via the HN networking thingy called Kismet, which intros members here via email.

Thank you for making this possible. It has been rattling around in my head for years and failing to go anywhere until I got a smidgeon of valuable feedback.

Just out of curiosity, what is the "this" that your kismet contact made possible? It's a little hard to tell from the site, but I get the impression that the pocketputer is just an idea at this point, not even at the point of being a serious proposal (like with a plan and a budget). Is that wrong? Because if it is, you should make that clearer.

TLDR The "this" in question is the Pocket Puter website with a good domain name that covers both tablets and phones. This website is a useful resource for people on the street or at risk of homelessness. It can be shared verbally or pre-installed on (used) phones or tablets to be given away to homeless or poor individuals.

I already have several websites relevant to this project, like San Diego Homeless Survival Guide and Write Pay. My initial thought was that I would do something like load up links to those sites on phones or tablets and give them away. The conversation clarified for me that I really need to be able to put a single link on a phone as a bookmark or default homepage that could be updated (rather than trying to put a growing list of links on each device, causing different devices to get different info). Previous discussions on HN were suggesting a custom ROM or app.

So I started this website with just the links page to gather together existing resources for the project. Then it occurred to me that I should add some pages with useful information about recurring issues, like working offline and managing battery power.

This site stands on its own as the informational piece of the project and can be updated as I see fit, or just left as a few useful pages. It doesn't necessarily have to grow.

Other pieces of the project are still in the works. I have a rough draft update on those bits that stalled in part because this post got unexpected traction on HN, leading me to post here and do some updates on the Pocket Puter site.

There is no plan to create a device called a Pocket Puter. The idea is to put together useful information making existing tech -- phones and tablets -- more useful for a particular problem space and to foster the ability to give away tech with information pre-installed in the form of a link.

Someone on HN asked me what could be done to encourage other homeless people to do what I had done and make use of the internet as a means to problem solve. One of the things I suggested was give away phones or tablets. They said they would take that bet, leading me to try to develop the information piece.

I currently have contacts on the ground and I hope to develop a pilot program locally that can be copied elsewhere for minimal investment and effort.

I love that this is a blogspot page :) what are your goals with this project?

I think that's covered on the about page: https://pocketputer.blogspot.com/p/about.html. In case that isn't really sufficient:

Basically, I want to create the information piece to make it possible for homeless individuals and others at risk of homelessness to use minimal tech, like a smartphone or tablet, to start addressing some of their problems. As one element of that, I explicitly want to support the ability to earn an online income, even with very minimal tech.

Locally, I hope to collect phones and tablets, put a link to this site on them and give them away to the homeless community here. I would like to also generally foster digital microenterprise locally (the link to a site with the name Digital Microenterprise on the links page is also a project of mine) for not just the homeless community, but anyone with barriers to regular employment as this is a risk factor for homelessness.

I'm in a small town with high unemployment. This is fueling the homeless epidemic here. But there is good internet service here, so I see a solution at hand. I was able to earn money online while homeless and eventually get off the street.

Last, having it be a public site means anyone anywhere in the US can readily replicate the project with minimal resources by collecting used phones and tablets, adding a link and giving them away.

I’ve heard people talk about Amazon Turk which seems to be a way to get paid for filling out online surveys or something like that. You could look into that as a way for someone with no technical skills and lots of free time to use this provided phone for income.

I am interested in finding things you can start from the street that have some hope of leading to a middle class income. Everything I have heard of Mechanical Turk indicates there is no hope of making a middle class income that way.

I have a link on the Links page to a google doc listing gig platforms. It does not appear to currently have Mechanical Turk on it, but perhaps that will be added in the future. But I personally have no desire at this time to promote Mechanical Turk. Perhaps that will change if I start hearing better things about the service.

Also known as "artificial artificial intelligence".

I love this project! Great work!

Quite a few years ago I was using the combo of a feature phone + iPod Touch (basically an iPhone without the phone). So I definitely remember the struggle of having to find WiFi hotspots and plan ahead the offline material for times without connectivity. I was living in a country with very few places that offered free WiFi at the time - compared to the US - due to legal liability reasons.

I was using apps like Instapaper, "Read it Later" (now called Pocket), Khan Academy, iTunes U (it has many absolutely great university lecture recordings) and occasionally YouTube downloads. These days both Chrome and Safari can download entire web pages as an archive for offline reading, so now I would probably just use those browsers instead of Instapaper or Pocket.

Sometimes I miss being a bit more "disconnected" like that, though.

Where is the download page feature in Chrome and Safari?

In Chrome for Android the feature is available in the first row of its menu. Look for a download icon without any text (the third icon from the left).

In Safari you just have to add a page to your reading list and it will be saved for offline access to your device.

Sorry but why is it upvoted? It's a blog with 4 pages with no content or anything new. Is just says "to use less battery, turn off the brightness of the screen..."

I've used my smartphone as my only personal computer for the past 3 years. Overall, it's been a positive experience.

The only thing I can't do efficiently is software development. Is anyone familiar with the state of the art in mobile software development?

As jmiller099 suggested, AIDE is a nice IDE that runs on an Android. I used to use it before I switched to an iPhone.

On my iPhone and iPad I use an SSH app to access a VPS that I use only for coding, running machine learning problems overnight, etc. This works well on an iPad but is cumbersome on an iPhone. I like emacs, and remote dev in an SSH session works for me.

On my iPhone and iPad I really enjoy Raskell: a very nice Haskell IDE that is fine for writing short programs.

For Python, Pythonista is a very good IDE! Really good.

I like traveling lite with only a phone. I would have real difficulties doing what you do, using a smartphone as only personal computer but what you do would really help work/life balance.

on android a developer can develop for android on android itself. applies to java, ndk, and even console c/cpp apps. product is called AIDE. root not required.

furthermore, can use rooted android to develop for windows and windows ce by using tcc in conjunction with the aforementioned ndk to build tcc on the phone.

I researched this while I was still homeless. I was told you could develop in Kivy on an Android device (at least on a tablet). I was never able to make it work, but I don't have serious programming experience. I just know a little CSS and HTML. Also, that was a few years ago. Perhaps things have improved.



If you want a Linux shell there's Termux, you can use vim, compilers, python, etc.

Thanks for the project, might be valuable for people on the streets.

What I'd suggest if you decide to expand it: security. Passcodes, ways to back stuff up - and which prepaid providers will replace your SIM card with one with the same number (e.g. it's hit-and-miss in Germany if you're on pre-paid). People on the streets are often enough easy prey for robbers and other criminals, and electronics tend to not really like influence from the elements..-

Another battery hint. Turn off wifi, bluetooth and location services when they are not in use. These can be a huge drain.

Thank you. Added.

I really enjoyed the author's story - spent 10 minutes looking at her web sites and donated.

The textbroker.com writing service she mentioned looks cool - just forwarded that link to a friend who is an excellent writer and who needs work.

I can't get https://pocketputer.com to load, but https://pocketputer.blogspot.com works and is the same blog AFAICT

Nice project. Would it make more sense as a wiki, though? In order to better allow contributions, corrections and ideas from readers?

I am kind of a subject matter expert here. My experiences suggest that, no, crowdsourcing information isn't particularly effective.

I left a question on Metafilter yesterday. I am very much regretting it. Their solutions involve an awful lot of "Just buy more stuff!" and "Why don't you get a laptop?" type answers.

Most people who are tech savvy make good money. They can't seem to wrap their brain around the constraints involved in using tech while homeless. It is an alien experience for them.

Hopefully, the site will have some appeal for, say, campers, digital nomads and others and hopefully that will foster development of the site as well as helping to get traffic. But if I make it a crowdsourced resource, I am quite confident that it will soon stop being useful information for the intended purpose.

I think a subreddit would be ideal, if one doesn't already exists.

That I am actually considering doing. I am fond of Reddit.

Edit: And here you go: https://www.reddit.com/r/pocketputer/

So, this website doesn’t appear to work on iOS.

Was that intentional?

Another data point: It seems to work fine on an iPad.

Great resource!

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