I was reading through an interview series called The Setup recently. Nerds are asked to describe their gear, both hardware and software, and then what their dream version would be. Fun stuff – highlights for me — RMS, Aaron Swartz (one of our clients for ActionKit!) and Máirín Duffy (one of the few Linux users profiled aside from RMS). It’s all very Apple heavy, but still interesting to think about how different people setup their kit for fairly similar tasks. It made me want to put in my two cents, but I don’t think I’m famous enough to rate a slot on the site, so…
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Sam Tregar and I spend most of my time coding for We Also Walk Dogs, working with our many progressive political and non-profit clients. I work mostly in Python and Perl.
What hardware are you using?
My main work machine is a three year old Thinkpad T60p – a 15.4″ widescreen model with a very sharp 1680×1050 resolution, 2GB ram and a 2Ghz Core 2 Duo CPU. I recently replaced the hard drive with a fast SSD which was a huge upgrade, equivalent to getting a whole new machine for much less money. I keep the trackpad turned off – my typing style is so right-handed that I frequently palm-over the trackpad – and use the trackpoint exclusively. I’ve been using Thinkpads for a while now and it really comes down to the keyboard – all the keys are in the right place, and all the keys are big enough for my sausage-esque fingers.
At the office I used to have a sweet little Shuttle KPC machine with a Celeron 450 and 2GB of ram. Then about 3 months past its one year warranty it stopped working. So now I’m using my wife’s discarded four year old Dell laptop – a 2.2Ghz Core 2 Duo with 1GB of ram. It used to have 2GB before one of the ram slots mysteriously turned bad. I have it hooked up to a 21″ widescreen LCD running at 1680×1050. My keyboard is a Keytronic Lifetime with the all-important classic IBM layout, just like the Thinkpad. I use a Kensington Expert “Mouse” which is actually a trackball. It’s nice but I really miss the trackballs Logitech used to make.
I’ve also got a custom-built gaming rig. It’s an AMD Phenom II BE450 with 4GB of ram and an Nvidia GeForce 216 GPU. Years ago I put out the cash for a fast WG Raptor 10k disk, but I think about replacing it with an SSD frequently. It’s in a fancy low-noise case, the Antec P180.
Rounding out the local network is a Shuttle KPC operating as a storage server and home for occasional personal-use web apps, like the app I use to tell me when to leave the house to make a train. It’s got a Celeron of some type, 2GB of ram and 1TB of storage. I’m hoping it doesn’t suffer a similar fate to my late office model.
Oh, and I get my ass out of bed with a Chumby, the best Linux-powered alarm clock ever.
And what software?
I’ve been using Linux as a desktop OS since I was 15 years old – Slackware v1.1.2 on my 386DX40. I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up with Linux and to be able to use it both on my machines and on virtually every server I work on (once in a blue moon I’ll work on a BSD or Sun box). My distro of choice is currently Fedora – I’m running Fedora 11 on most of my machines, but my office laptop has Fedora 12. The only machine I don’t run Linux on is the game machine, which is running Windows 7.
Far and away the most important app for me is Gnu Emacs. I’ve been using Emacs for around 13 years now and I’m still learning new things. I have a 400+ line .emacs file with tons of custom functions, many of which I use daily. Every so often I play with a new editor but I honestly can’t imagine working without Emacs.
The other two programs I use when I code are Chrome (I’m a recent convert from Firefox, so I still flip back now and again) and Gnome Terminal, invariably connected to one or more screen sessions. I read my email with Gmail, and I use Pidgin for IM and IRC.
What would be your dream setup?
I hate synchronizing things. I want to be able to sit down at any machine and have all my customized setup magically available. I’ve got some of this now between Xmarks for Chrome+Firefox and a private Subversion repository for my dot-files, but there’s a lot that’s not accounted for. I’ve standardized all my hardware on a common screen resolution just to make this easier (1680×1050) – same (gigantic) font sizes, identical Gnome layout, etc.
Another frequent wish is that I could have a full-size keyboard, trackball and screen available while I’m working in my living room. I actually achieved this during college with a hilariously dangerous monitor arm attached to a futon. Imagine sitting with a 20″ CRT directly above your lap, the monitor arm and futon groaning audibly under the weight. Someday I may recreate that beautiful setup with a lightweight LCD. Ideally the screen would just float in front of me, held up by fairies. And hey, since we’re headed in that direction, drop the keyboard and trackball – I’ll just control it by telepathy. This is going to be great.
I always want a faster connection – lower latency and more bandwidth. It’s a mark of newfound fiscal responsibility that I haven’t yet ordered Optimum Ultra, the ultra-fast, ultra-expensive data plan from my cable company. If/when they drop the $300 install fee I’ll probably do it.