The Linux Setup – Brett Legree, Nuclear Engineer

Brett Legree is a nuclear engineer. Do I really even need to add anything else? As you’ll see from his interview, he’s not only a lover of the Linux code, but also of the Linux philosophy.

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  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    Good day – my name is Brett Legree. I am an engineer and I work in the Canadian nuclear industry – specifically, I am a nuclear facility site inspector and I work for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is Canada’s nuclear regulatory organization. We help ensure the continued safe operation of nuclear companies. That is what I do from 9 to 5.

    When I am not busy with my family (I am married and we have four wonderful children), I eat, sleep and breathe technology.

    I am about to formally launch a new business that specializes in what I call “technical solutions for makers”. You could say I’ve been doing it for some time, however, it will soon have a web presence, which is long overdue.

    If you think about it, we are all makers. Humanity is a race of makers.

    We make stuff, we dream up things, we create them with our hands and our tools, and we share them with each other.

    Technology is one of the things that we as humans make.

    I have found over the years that a lot of people have trouble with technology, and I have a personal mantra:

    “Technology is meant to enable us, not enslave us.”

    So I create solutions for other makers, so that their technology will serve them, not the other way around. This is the basis of my business.

    There will be hardware and software solutions, each handcrafted for the individual maker, since every single person is different.

    There is no “one size fits all” solution.

    Linux will factor heavily as the cornerstone of many of the possible solutions.

    Although I run all of the major operating systems in my work, so that I can stay on top of them and be able to help my clientele, I see Linux as being different.

    I see Linux as being the ultimate platform for makers – since, technology should enable us, not enslave us.

    Though Windows and Mac OS X have their place (because there are some things that they excel at over Linux), in many ways they enslave the makers.

    You, as a maker, cannot truly make Windows or OS X your own – but not so with Linux.

    That is why I see it as the eventual destination for makers, for the world.

    Perhaps it will not look as it does today, perhaps it will be a truly free version of Android or something like that (since smartphones and tablets are on the rise, especially in developing nations), but I believe it will be Linux.

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    I run Ubuntu 11.10 on my Lenovo ThinkPad X120e. I have been running Ubuntu since the very beginning, in fact, since before it was officially released as Ubuntu 4.10 – I can’t remember exactly how I found it, but it was something along the lines of, “try out this new Debian-based Linux distro and help out”. So I did, and I was hooked immediately.

    I fell in love with the whole philosophy behind it, the concept of Ubuntu – “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

    This is especially true for me and my interests and knowledge of technology. I am what I would call “self-taught,” but really if you think about it, I am not. I have learned from the best there are, from all of you out there, the other makers.

    I would not be what I am without all of you.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    Because I am very interested in helping makers get the most out of their technology, I need to keep abreast of what is out there – so I work with all of the different desktop environments, in order to be familiar with them so that I can find the ideal solution for each person I help.

    Many people do not like Unity, for instance, but I have learned it so that I can help people who work best with it.

    Similarly, I have kept on top of GNOME 3 (aka GNOME Shell) as well as the GNOME “fallback mode,” KDE 4.7, Xfce 4.8, Window Maker, GNOME 2, and a whole host of other window managers (I have a soft spot for the tiling WMs like dwm and awesome).

    I tend to work mostly with GNOME 3 myself since it “just works” for what I need to do (sorry Linus!), though I’ve been using KDE 4.7 a fair bit lately as well.

    I am a keyboard junkie and GNOME 3 is very keyboard friendly in my experience. KDE 4.7 is also great with the keyboard, especially if you enable the tiling window feature.

    My primary browser is Chrome, and I use Codeweavers’ CrossOver to run Microsoft Office (a necessary evil from time to time in my work, sometimes people just need “the real McCoy” and I am there to provide the solutions whatever the operating platform). Plus, I like the guys at Codeweavers and they need to eat too! Most recently, I have been working with a writer who is on Mac OS X but wishes to switch to Linux for various reasons. The one thing that has kept him on OS X to this point has been a software package called Scrivener. As it turns out, Scrivener is under development for both Linux and Windows, and so, I have been testing Scrivener out on Ubuntu using the native build, as well as the Windows version via CrossOver. It runs very well in both cases, and so, mid-next year, I expect to be assisting this gentleman in a migration from Mac OS X to Ubuntu (or, to whatever distribution best suits his needs).

    I also use VMware Workstation and Player to test and demonstrate other distributions on this machine (specifically Scientific Linux, which I really like as an alternative for certain applications; Linux Mint, which is doing some great work, especially in the desktop area with the upcoming Linux Mint 12 and the Mint GNOME Shell Extensions; and the daily builds of Ubuntu, currently 12.04 LTS – I like to be on the edge of what is new).

    I use Dolphin as my file manager since I like the concept of Miller Columns. And finally, thinkfan, to keep the laptop quiet (I can’t stand fan noise).

    As a side note as mentioned above, I run the other major platforms at home for other purposes – I have a Lenovo ThinkPad T61p running Windows 7 as a media server and game machine (very infrequently do I watch anything or play games, though – it is mostly for my family), and I have a 2008 MacBook Pro running OS X 10.7 so that I can support people who are best served by Apple’s solutions. The MacBook Pro also runs VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop, so it is pressed into service for VM testing as well (again, mostly various Linux distros).

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    I guess I sort of already partially answered this!

    My primary “bare metal” Linux machine is a Lenovo ThinkPad X120e 11.6" ultraportable, which I upgraded myself somewhat. I installed 8GB of memory to assist with VM work and I also added a 120GB OCZ Vertex 2 SSD, which made it quite snappy. Sometimes I plug it into an LG 24" LCD panel, and use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (by Microsoft – heresy!)

    In case anyone is curious, the T61p runs Windows 7 Ultimate in “clamshell mode” through an LG 47" LCD television, with a wireless Logitech keyboard and mouse (8GB memory and a 500GB HDD, plus a 1TB external HDD for media). I would probably run Linux on the machine, but we have an Apple TV in the house and iTunes on Linux is “tricky.”

    The MacBook Pro runs Mac OS X 10.7 in “clamshell mode” via another LG 24" LCD panel, an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad. It has an OCZ Solid 3 120GB SSD, and it also has two external drives connected to it (a 1TB and a 2TB).

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    I am already working towards this (scrimping and saving every penny!) – I plan to purchase a Lenovo ThinkPad W-series workstation laptop, probably a 15" form factor, and run it with external keyboard and mouse in “clamshell mode” (I love doing that) through a large LCD panel. I may go for a 27" this time – one of the 2560×1440 or 2560×1600 panels.

    It will otherwise run the latest versions of the software I currently run on my X120e, since that serves me very well.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Of course!

    I have included screenshots of both GNOME 3 and KDE 4.7 for comparison. I used to tweak everything, but these days I tend to stick to defaults as it is just easier for me.

Brett Legree's GNOME desktop


Brett Legree's KDE desktop


Interview conducted November 8, 2011

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

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