The Linux Setup – Phil Baker, Lead Forecaster, National Weather Service

Weathermen are like rock stars. I remember when local New York City forecaster Nick Gregory came to my junior high school. Everyone was genuinely excited, and at that age, we were rarely excited about anything (except Faces of Death — man did we love that movie). It’s only gotten more glamorous for the weather industry. Gawker has a weather site. Nate Silver’s given weathermen his blessing. So it’s great to talk to Phil, who’s a Linux-using forecaster with the (U.S.) National Weather Service. He’s a GNOME fan who runs a simple setup that lets him try out different distros. And it’s yet another example of just how many different fields can successfully work with Linux desktops.

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

    My name is Phil Baker. I’m a Lead Forecaster with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Memphis, TN. I’ve been with the NWS for 21 years (time flies!), after graduating from the University of Nebraska. While not officially on the IT side of the house, I help out the IT staff where I can, particularly when it comes to Linux or networking.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I was introduced to Unix in the late 90s. At that time, each NWS office had an HP-UX RISC workstation that was a precursor to our present day AWIPS infrastructure, which originally ran HP-UX. I bought my first PC in 1998 and Windows felt like a toy compared to Unix. About this time, a sysadmin at the office was testing a new operating system called “Linux” on a spare PC. I was intrigued. It definitely was not a toy and the shell commands I’d learned on HP-UX were transferable to this Linux box. I went home and installed Caldera Linux on my one-year-old PC, then quickly moved to Mandrake — “Red Hat with KDE,” as it was known back then. I’ve been running Linux ever since.

    Soon after Red Hat introduced Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), the NWS migrated AWIPS from HP-UX to RHEL, which ran on faster Intel hardware. The WSR-88D radar was also upgraded to open hardware running RHEL, which significantly expanded the radar’s post processing capabilities.

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

    I distro hop quite a bit. Currently, I’m running Linux Mint 15 on my desktop and Crunchbang Linux on my server. With Mint’s underlying Ubuntu 13.04 soon running out of support, and the harder-than-it-needs-to-be nature of upgrading Mint, my desktop will soon be upgraded to Fedora 20. My laptop is an old MacBook Pro that runs Fedora 20 through VMware Fusion. I’ve been impressed with Fedora 20 and it’s a good platform with which to stay current on the future technologies in RHEL.

  4. What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?

    I personally prefer GNOME 3. I’ve tried KDE and really like it, but there’s just so many knobs to turn to get it like I want it. GNOME 3 is simple and it gets out of my way. There are still a few areas where I think it needs to mature, and I’m sure it will. I see myself as a GNOME user for many years.

  5. What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?

    I develop web pages for our internal situational awareness server at work. We have thin clients (LTSP) with 42-inch monitors that contain supplementary weather information from sources internal and external to the NWS. I also like work on the family intranet at home. Besides the Chrome browser and GNOME Terminal, the app that I spend most of my time in is Geany. It’s my go-to app for web development.

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    My home desktop is an Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge, with SSD and 16GB RAM. I hope to soon pass on my old MacBook Pro to my wife, so that I can buy a System76 Kudu Professional. It’ll be nice to run Linux natively on a powerful laptop, with all the hardware visualization support and a higher resolution screen. I’m just waiting on available funds. 🙂

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    This screenshot is from my Fedora 20 VM.

Phil Baker's desktop

Interview conducted January 10, 2014


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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