How I Compute

I’ve been fascinated with Richard Stallman for approximately the last decade. He maintains a pretty interesting page about how he does his computing. It’s just a little interesting because he’s painted himself into a corner. That’s besides the point of this post.

I thought it would be fun to document how I do my computing. I think I have pretty unique use cases, and maybe others could get some ideas from me.

I will try to sort the post into components, sorted by how important each piece of technology is to my daily life, or by how much I use that technology.

Acer C720

By far my most used computer is my Acer C720 Chromebook. Yeah, it runs Chrome OS. No it doesn’t “limit” me. I also installed Ubuntu on the side. It’s not a dual boot because they run both at the same time. I would describe it as very similar to the way Docker works, but I don’t really know how Docker works and I don’t really know how this sideloading works. Basically, I have a window I can open that opens a bash shell that’s a full Ubuntu installation. There’s no GUI for the Ubuntu installation. It’s very similar to any other *NIX OS: you have a full GUI (in my case Chrome OS) and then you can open a terminal prompt for command line stuff. So I use it just like you would use a Macbook. My primary use for the Chromebook is school and notes. I take notes in Nano (please don’t make fun of me) and sync them all to a Git repo. They’re all written in markdown, so github’s built in markdown rendering comes in handy. It’s great for editing and great for viewing. You can find my notes repo on my github if you’re interested. As far as Chrome OS, I totally love it. Since my screen is only 11 inches, I take full advantage of the convenient full screen button. Everything looks so much better full screen! The keyboard is actually pretty good, as is the trackpad. If you’re comfortable on a Macbook, you’ll feel at home here. The keyboard is not backlit, but I literally paid $85 for my Chromebook used, so I’m not complaining. I also love the matte screen. I honestly have no idea why all laptops do not have a matte screen. So in essence, I use my Chromebook very similarly to how most college students use a tablet: notes, web browsing, and just all around laziness.

Nexus 5X

My next most used of tech is my phone. Currently I’m using a Nexus 5X which I really like. The OS is more important to me than the hardware though, assuming the hardware runs well enough. So getting fresh Android builds as soon as they’re available is awesome for me. I a true believer in stock Google Android, none of that samsung crapWiz. Currently I’m part of the Android N beta program which is going well. I mostly use my phone for phone things, which is basically most of the things I use my laptop for. I should probably get rid of my phone huh? Whatever, it’s just too cool. I think the one major use for my phone that no other device can replace is reading before bed. Every night, as I’m falling asleep, I read Hacker News for about 15-20 minutes. It really helps me fall asleep! I do have to use a screen dimmer (f.lux kind of thing) called Twilight, though the new Android OS has a built in version that works great. It filters out blue light which I guess helps you sleep? Whatever, it works well enough.

Macbook Workstation

Now we come to the the powerhouse: the 13” Macbook Pro Retina. I actually have two so I’ll bundle them together. My personal one is older and slower I guess? I’d never really know. My work machine is the top of the line with an i7 and 16GB ram. I am a huge fan of using it in dock mode, with the lid shut. At home I have a henge dock that it stays in 90% of the time. At work it just sits on my desk. You may think I’m a loser for not having the more expensive 15” model, but I don’t like the bigger size. I used to have that one, but I switched to the 13” model as soon as I had the chance! At home I have a 24” Acer monitor that I hook up via DisplayPort because DisplayPort is far superior to HDMI in every way. I use a Logitech MX Master mouse, which is probably the best mouse I’ve ever used (when it works). It features 3 Bluetooth profiles that I can switch between so I can leave it paired to my work and home computers. At work I mostly use a ThinkPad usb keyboard with the mouse nub in the middle. It’s exceptionally low build quality is kind of fascinating though. I also alternate between that keyboard and a Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition. It’s 10-keyless (no numpad) which I like. I’ve learned how to use the number keys efficiently and I like having the mouse that much closer to my keyboard. I have Glorious PC Gaming Race XXL mousepads at home and work. Look them up, they’re just huge mouse pads that cover most of my desk. I really like both of them.

As for software I use on the Macbooks, my text editor of choice is Atom. I used to use Sublime Text 2 but the confusing license terms and strange upgrade policy killed it for me. I also think Atom’s package manager is way better than Sublime (because Sublime doesn’t really have a native package manager). Combine all those things with the face that Atom is open source software, and it’s a no brainer for me. Of course, I use Google Chrome on my Macs. I do use an adblocker, and uBlock is by far the best one ever made. At times it can be aggressive,but it’s so easy to turn off. I’m also a fan of the Github Desktop git client. Sometimes I still have to bust out a shell and do some manual commands, but the rest of the time it’s great. My terminal emulator of choice is iTerm2 (and now 3 beta I think?). Nothing super special there. I use bash. I’ve tried fish and zsh, but frankly I just don’t do enough to justify them.

Media Center PC

I also have a PC set up in my living room connected to my TV. It’s the only method of media playback we have. It has a blu-ray drive installed, but frankly playing blu-ray on a PC is a “bag of hurt”. The $20 case I have actually looks pretty good in the tv stand, most people can’t immediately identify it as a PC. Some still don’t understand that it’s a computer even after I point it out. I have a Logitech wireless media keyboard with a built in trackpad, it’s great. On the PC I run Windows 7 because I occasionally play games on it as well. However, 99% of the time is spent in Chrome playing videos from Youtube, Hulu, and other sites. It’s totally a great setup! My wife uses Youtube for workout videos. We can play baby einstein on Youtube for our son. It’s just nice to have access to all content without any setbacks. The one thing it can’t do is any kind of screen casting, but, c’mon. Who actually does that anyways? And I’m talking about in their home, not in a board room or something. I’ll admit occasionally it would be nice to quickly throw up a youtube video or picture, but it’s just not that big of a deal.

That pretty much wraps up all the computers I use on a regular basis. I have various other computing devices that are used on a less frequent basis (several Gameboys, Famicom, Sega Genesis, Commodore 64, PSP’s, and some SBCs). I think I have just enough computers in my life to make life easier. Sometimes they are distracting, but overall they work really well and I’m able to get what I want done. That’s mostly thanks to OSX and Chrome OS though. I’m sure if I used my Windows PC for productivity I’d end up fighting it a lot more. I’m a big fan of a well-oiled machine, and all of my computers do exactly what I want them to. I’m sure Richard Stallman would scoff at me, but that’s okay.

Thanks for reading!