23 Sep 2014
The website The Setup gets lots of people to answer a fixed set of four questions about their setup. I find it fascinating to not just see what people use, but also what they think about it.
Here I will give my answers to these questions. None of the hardware, software, or my opinions about them should be expected to be stable. Chances are I’ll redo a post like this occasionally.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I am Bart Kastermans, a mathematician and software developer. I was an academic until 2012 when I decided to pursue a new career in information technology. Currently I work as a data scientist for Adgoji in Amsterdam.
So I analyse data, and learn statistics and sofware development while I am at it.
What hardware to you use?
My computer is a 13-inch MacBook Air (8GB ram, 256 GB ssd). I use an iPad Air (16 GB) for reading books and pdfs. My phone is an iPhone 4S (16 GB).
I have a yubikey for a second factor with lastpass.
At home I use Sennheiser HD 595 headphones, which b/c they are open can’t be used reasonably in the office. For in the office and on the train I have Shure SE 215 which keep noise out, which then with playing some music really keeps distractions out.
I have a logitech Anywhere MX mouse both at home and at the office. This is by far the most pleasant mouse I have found. I would prefer a wired mouse to avoid the battery issues, but never found one that I like as much as this one. Also b/c I use both hands with the mouse (not at the same time) I need it symmetric, which many mice are not.
And what software?
On the phone I ahve the Reisplanner (app from the train company in the Netherlands to check times and platforms), some other travel related apps, some messaging crap, a timer, music, lastpass and pcalc. Of those the only one that makes me happy is pcalc. This is a really pleasant calculator app.
The Reisplanner is needed b/c the NS (the train company) messes up regularly, and then after that seems really bad at communicating. The app seems so far to usually have up to date information on how to deal with things.
The other travel apps are for parking, car2go, and navigation. The navigation is rather useful, and it is really cool that when you are in an area where the maps are no good you can just look at sattelite images to figure things out.
All this together makes for a really useful device, that I’d still rather do without.
On the tablet I use the Kindle app, Papers 3, Pcalc, OmniFocus, and Downcast. The abilities they give me of carying lots of reading material around, and having an acceptable interface to read it, I really enjoy. The form factor of a tablet works really well for me for reading in a comfy chair at home, or in public transport.
On the latop I use a lot of software, I’ll just mention some of it. There is the companion apps to the Papers app on my iPad, used for getting the pdfs in there and organised (this also requires me to use dropbox for synching this to my tablet).
Most of my typing is into emacs, but I also use RStudio, Eclipse, and am experimenting a little with sublime text. Emacs works really well, but b/c I am not blind I would like something that is more pleasant on my eyes. The combination with tmux is really hard to beat though.
I also use omnifocus on my laptop. I’d prefer to use org-mode because the information would be more easily accessible, but a pleasant clear GUI on top of it makes it work better for me.
For diffing I use kaleidoscope, setup for use when I do e.g.
difftool, b/c it makes it much easier to see what happened than
looking at a normal diff, or worse the github diff interface.
I use Thunderbird for my email. The app I use doesn’t matter to me too much, my main email management strategy is to try to get as few emails as possible. The other part complementing this strategy is that I don’t try to keep email. The google strategy of keeping all mail and making a decent search for it is a nice idea, but just getting rid of everything unless it is clear I might need it again in the future works even better.
In my menubar I have bartender for managing the icons. I have menumeters and little snitch for seeing what my computer is up to. And Hazel for helping me do the gardening my harddisk needs.
Finally, I want to mention Theodore Gray’s The Elements. A lovely modern imagining of the periodic table.
What would be your dream setup?
I would like for the things I use to be much more reliable. I have very little need for more features, but lots of desire for not having to mess with the stuff I have in ways I do not enjoy. Trying to figure out why my wifi is slow is not something I enjoy, mucking about with a visualisation the whole day I do.
Also documentation should be much better. Spending time on figuring something out that someone already long knows how to do, and is not of core importance to what you are doing, is just a big waste. By no means do I mean to imply that I am perfect with my documentation, but I certainly am finding it worth more and more of my time.
I would also like a lot faster internet. Because harddisk space and computing power is always limited working with a service like amazon web services for keeping data and firing up the compute power needed works great. But because of some limitations with this I do want to work with data locally sometimes. I’d be great if that didn’t take much time. Also very fast loading times of webpages, and unnoticible latency to servers would make it easier to stay in the flow.
Having said that however, the real important improvements should be achieved on the other side of the keyboard. I am working on better diet and exercise to have more energy and maitain my focus much longer. I do quite well, I think, but my hardware or software are not the main restriction on what I can achieve.