For Christmas this year, I thought I would get a Raspberry Pi (a very small computer on one board) and use it to make my parents' life a bit easier. Combining my desire to tinker with a novel tech thingy with the altruism of doing something for someone else is a more honest and achievable gift than ones in years past. I happened upon the Pi Zero W at Microcenter for $10 and have been playing with it for the past two days.
Originally I was going to set up a Pi-hole to block advertisements on the many awful news websites they visit, However, as I started using the Pi it has become obvious it can do more than that. The devices come with a massive 500MB of RAM, which is the same as most cheap VPS instances, and they can manage more than one task. On one VPS of 512MB of RAM I've set up Nextcloud, a git server, and OpenVPN running fairly comfortably, so the little Pi should eek out a few services.
I haven't really set anything solid up yet, and I've already learned loads. Listening to tech and Linux podcasts you get some passive knowledge about Docker and other container technology but actually trying to make things work in this cramped environment is an actual education. After two days of reading and dutifully typing in commands I can finally begin to outline what I actually want to learn.
System administration used to come easily to me, or as easily as it can after all-nighters stewing your brain in man pages and how-tos; Docker and containers are something brand new to me. Admin on one machine is so different than fleets of hundreds of nodes and I feel so behind, that I have neglected learning for several years, that the movement of the Linux world has shifted paradigm from machines to nodes and I wasn't paying attention.
This of course I knew, but didn't understand until actually setting it up for myself, didn't understand how different I would find it, and how unprepared I was. I'm not dispairing, but amazed at how I could have missed out on this until now, and encouraged to dive in blindly. This year everyone is getting Pi Zeros as gifts (which is especially handy because I'm basically broke)! Fun projects that family members might actually like include a preloaded speaker for my dad, an automated grow-box for my mum, and a couple stocking stuffers for my tech-minded brother. I'm being selfish for Christmas!