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!