The Tools I Use

I think constantly tweaking and playing with new tools is an important part of doing academic work, especially digital work. A while ago, I was interviewed by Steve Ovadia at the Linux Rig regarding my computer set up. It still amazes me that anyone would find my computer interesting, but I continue to get questions about it. Almost every time someone sees me working on my laptop, they ask what is going on, and it has been helpful to direct them towards the interview itself. However, I did the interview a while ago, and it took some time to be uploaded. So, I thought it may be worthwhile to mention some of the updates I’v made to my tools and go in a little more depth.

In most cases, the key components of my setup have stayed the same. I continue to exclusively use free/open source software for my research and advocate for it whenever someone is willing to listen to me ramble. My tools are heavily command line based, and vim remains where I do the majority of my work. I discovered vimWiki a while ago, and that is is how I keep track of all my Markdown files. They were getting a little confusing with my older method of separating them by semester. Plus, vimWiki provides some interesting bonus features. I also remain committed to fish shell, and I can’t imagine ever going back to bash or even zsh.

My distribution of choice is Ubuntu MATE 16.04, which I only update when I’m bored. I don’t know what benefit I would gain from a quicker release cycle or a rolling distribution. As I mentioned in my interview, I don’t really utilize the MATE desktop environment, but because it follows the Unix philosophy, I can run the components I need for i3 window manager. I’v talked about using a tiling window manager before when I tried to make the switch as an experiment. At this point, I’m so used to it that I can barely use Mac OS or Windows without frustration.

The one thing that I did change is that I got a new laptop. I used to have the Dell XPS 9343, but the keyboard was extremely subpar. The keys were close together, and it would give me wrist pain. I switched to the Thinkpad X1 Carbon 5th generation, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Linux worked out of the box with Ubuntu MATE 16.04 after I installed the Ubuntu LTS Enablement Stack. The one issue I continue to have is that the fans kick on loudly when I use Firefox and sometimes after suspend. I switched to Google Chrome, and I haven’t had the same issue since. Hopefully, the problem will get fixed soon, and I can go back to Firefox.

Sitting at a Coffee Shop with my new Thinkpad X1 5th Generation

I know that many of the Linux advocates who use Thinkpads talk about the amazing keyboards and trackpoint. When I went to test the keyboard out at a store, however, I didn’t notice a big difference. It was better than most laptop keyboards but definitely not enough to warrant the admiration. I realized how wrong I was when I got the computer itself and started using it on a daily basis. My wrist pain is basically gone. Now, when I see someone with a Macbook with butterfly keys and a glossy screen, I cringe a little inside. Another benefit of the keyboard has been that I no longer need to use an external keyboard and mouse. I have a desk, but because our guest room/office has been occupied by actual guests, I find myself going to coffee shops to work.

My LG ultrawide monitor is now in my closet, and I definitely miss using it. Before I put it in the closet, I also got a Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard and Logitech m570. I haven’t used a trackball in a long time, but in Linux, you can set the right click to turn the ball into a scroll wheel which is really beneficial.

Outside of the actual laptop, I switched to reabble to go through my RSS feed on my Kindle. I used to use newsbeuter, and send longer articles to my Kindle through the Send to Kindle extension. That works pretty well, but this stops me from playing on my computer all day. I was also recently gifted a 12-inch iPad that is collecting dust. I don’t like using non-free/open-source software, but it has occasionally been helpful for reading PDFs and some comics/graphic novels.

I will probably keep this setup for a while, since the laptop is sturdy enough to last me a few years. Thinkpad’s don’t really change aesthetically, and with Ubuntu’s five year LTS cycle, I don’t have to worry about something messing up any time soon. Also, it has USB C!

Migrating to Jekyll

I finally decided to upgrade my personal website and migrate it over to Jekyll. The platform is interesting because it creates static websites, and GitHub pages provides one free personal website for Jekyll making it affordable for graduate students and early career scholars.

So what was wrong with my old website? I had hosted it on Wordpress, and while it served its purpose, it was not a system that I enjoyed blogging at or even logging into. Mainly, I used it as an online CV for people looking me up and a place where my students could see digital copies of their syllabi. I though about the reasons why I was so hesitant to blog as a younger scholar and came up with a few that I thought may be helpful to others thinking about blogging for the first time/again:

I didn’t realize that platform mattered-Despite the recent influx in media studies on platform studies, I didn’t really realize how much using Wordpress annoyed me. Every time that I looked at the dashboard to my website, a dark gloom over how complicated it was fell over me. It required constant updates and working on the pages was a hassle. With Jekyll, I can write my blogs in Vim using Markdown and update them quickly and efficiently. If I really want, I can also make a blog post through the main GitHub website or Prose.io.

I wasn’t confident in my technical skills-Imposter syndrome seems to be rampant in the academy. I think this was the case with trying to move the blog to Jekyll. While I have worked with Git, CSS, Javascript, HTML, and even Jekyll itself before, I still felt that I didn’t have the technical knowledge to work with something that had a steep learning curve. I believe this has to do with the fact that the process of creating things is rarely evident to outsiders. When I see people that have created amazing projects, I feel like they put it together in the matter of a few hours or days. Talking to other people, however, I am reminded that most projects take a matter of months and years.

I had a particular notion of what academic blogging is-I always felt that academic blogging was strange. Although it supposedly provided a public venue for academic writing, most people do not enjoy reading academic prose, and I took my posts too seriously. I wanted to make sure that the grammar was perfect, and I wanted each post to have a huge number of citations, links, and embedded media. In my defense, about three years ago, this seemed to be a lot more common in academic blogs. Recently, I’v noticed that this has shifted and people are much more likely to use their blogs to talk about things that interest them outside of their professional careers.

I didn’t focus enough on posting things that I found personally interesting-This has to do with the previous issue, but I didn’t blog on my older website about anything I found interesting outside of work. There are a lot of things that I tinker with related to technology, media, etc. which I felt weren’t “academic” enough to write about. While it may draw away the few readers I had, I hope that posting things that I am enthusiastic about will let other people “catch the bug.”

Overall, I’m hoping to update the blog at least once a month with a small post. While it adds to my already hectic schedule, it also provides an interesting outlet for some of my “side” projects. Also, because I barely use Facebook, it may provide an outlet for others to keep up with me if they are interested.