The Linux Setup – Mary Gardiner, Ada Initiative

Mary does a great job going through her workflow. Her feelings on not having the time and/or energy for upgrades really resonated with me, though. Linux is at an interesting point in time. Individual releases work fantastically, but moving between releases can still sometimes be tricky. There seems to be a real market for a rolling release that’s tightly managed, so breakage is minimized yet software is always relatively up-to-date. Rick Spencer is thinking about what something like this might look like for Ubuntu. A lot of Linux users, across distros, would probably be very excited about a rolling release with training wheels.

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

    I am Mary Gardiner of the Ada Initiative. We’re a feminist non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture. I co-founded the Ada Initiative, and my title is Director of Operations and Research. Much as roles in a small startup are blurry they are for us too: my work includes everything from policy work, public speaking, training, business administration, bookkeeping, systems administration and JavaScript programming.

    Other things I do include caring for my young child; blogging; the odd bit of swimming, cycling and yoga; and very occasional scuba diving. I am in the very last stages of a PhD in computational linguistics: in the next month or so I need to do the final revisions of my thesis in line with my examiners’ comments and then I will graduate some time this year.

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

    I run Ubuntu on my laptop. To date I’ve always run the latest stable release, and occasionally the upcoming release when it’s in beta, but my time for upgrading software is diminishing and I’m considering switching to using only LTS releases, even on my laptop.

    I am curious about how Fedora is doing these days, but realistically switching distributions is more work than upgrading Ubuntu so I am likely to stick with the path of least resistance.

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

    I run GNOME Shell rather than Unity after having tried them both quite briefly. It works for me, although I’ve also enjoyed using tiled window managers a lot, so I am hoping the shellshape GNOME Shell extension matures further and allows me to use a simple tiled manager.

    I use Firefox for web browsing and increasingly for webapps also (I use Google Apps for work). I use Pidgin for IRC and IM, mostly for the feature that lets me set different statuses in different accounts, so that I am not equally available to everyone I know all at the same time. I’ve used irssi for IRC in the past and may again at some point. I use mutt for mail, together with Postfix (in satellite mode) and offlineimap.

    When I code, it’s almost always in Python, so Python and many Python libraries are installed on my machines.

    For my PhD thesis I also had LaTeX installed, 2E originally and later TeXLive, so that I could use xelatex. I wrote a whole series of blog entries on useful LaTeX packages for academic writing. For shorter pieces of writing I use LibreOffice, when I need control over look and feel, and Google Docs otherwise. I edit plain text and code in Vim.

    zsh, ssh, rsync and rdiff-backup play important supporting roles generally.

    On my servers my key software is Postfix for mail, BIND9 for DNS, nginx for HTTP(S) and Dovecot for IMAP, together with WordPress for most of my websites.

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

    My laptop is a Dell Vostro 3300 that I purchased in 2010. When I was finishing my PhD thesis in 2012 I bought a 24″ Philips monitor to use with it. Before that I was reliant on the laptop’s screen. Now when at my desk I use the external monitor, a Microsoft Natural keyboard and a USB optical mouse of whatever brand happened to be selling the last time my mouse broke.

    My servers are a Linode VM and a Shuttle box that AusPCMarket built for me. Building my own boxen comes from the same non-existent energy budget that trying new Linux distributions comes from.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    More or less what I have, I guess; I am not very ambitious. There’s probably no such thing as too many screen inches or too much RAM though.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    It’s probably time to search Flickr for a more cheerful background.

Mary Gardiner's desktop

Interview conducted January 21, 2013

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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