Who are you, and what do you do?
What hardware do you use?
- Lenovo T400s Linux laptop.
- Google Nexus One phone (free gift from TED Conference).
- Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b headphones.
- Graph paper & a felt-tip pen for practicing Chinese.
That’s all. I’ve been living out of a carry-on bag for a few years, until recently, so the less, the better.
Best feature of the Lenovo T400s laptop is its DVD bay can be removed with a switch and replaced with an easy 2.5" drive bay that you can just pop drives in and out of, with no screws. So I have everything backed-up twice on two cloned 2.5" terabyte drives. And two cloned drives filled with the entire collection of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies.
And what software?
I love love LOVE Arch Linux. I used to be an OpenBSD fan, but it was sometimes a drag for day-to-day laptop use. I switched to FreeBSD, which I still love, but missed having Flash for YouTube. I used Ubuntu for a while, but it felt too hand-holdy, too much stuff pre-installed, like those awful Windows computers where the manufacturer has installed a bunch of crap in advance “for your convenience”.
Then I found Arch Linux. Ahhh.... SO nice. Starts with nothing. A bare command-line prompt to install the core. That’s it. A minimalist’s dream. Everything that gets installed past that is something you chose to install. They do “rolling releases”, so the software is just updated every few days. It’s always cutting-edge current. Love it.
By default, I boot into raw console mode. No Xorg. No graphics. It keeps me focused and writing, keeps me away from a web browser. I think my best work is done in this mode.
When I do startx, I use the Ratpoison window manager, which I also love. Everything full-screen always. No menu-bars or anything else.
I have an aversion to installing a big GUI software when my little terminal is good-enough.
But two GUI apps I’m happy to use:
For learning Chinese, I use the awesome Wenlin.
For learning anything, I use the awesome Anki, which I love so much I donated $500 to. (The author wrote me back, thinking it must have been a PayPal mistake.) For learning Chinese in Anki, I use the great Pinyin Toolkit.
Lastly, I also use Skype, but hope that someday I could use a command-line VoIP app instead. (Know of any? I guess it’s not much of a market, huh.)
No apps on my phone. When I’m away from my computer, I enjoy being pretty disconnected. But I do use its built-in Google Maps + GPS, since I’m usually in places I’ve never been.
What would be your dream setup?
I’m very happy with this. Any shortcomings are my own, not my gear’s.
I wish I could piece together laptops like I can desktops. I’ll take this shell, this keyboard, that display, this CPU, that GPU, this drive, that mouse, etc. I could upgrade certain parts when needed, but keep the rest as-is.