The Linux Setup – Raymond Aldred, Academic

I found Raymond through Twitter, (where I seem to find more and more subjects…). His reasons for using Linux are pretty spectacular. A lot of subjects have touched on them but his answer is very comprehensive. Also, I appreciate his love of Mendeley. I’m a big fan of reference management.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

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

    My name is Raymond Aldred. I am and do a lot of things, but I am primarily a PhD student in Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. What do I do? I get a small amount of money to think about big questions, and help others (primarily undergraduates at McGill) do the same. The questions I am researching for my PhD thesis are questions about the nature of love and the mind, but I’m also interested in social justice issues, ethics, and human rights.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    This is a big question for me. I was teaching a small group of students in moral philosophy, and a few computer science students asked me why thinking about ethics was important to their chosen field. From there, I began to think about ethical questions that we rarely think about when we use our technology and practice computing. It seems to me we make ethical and political decisions all the time about technology, particularly about what operating systems we use. Should I use Windows, or Mac? Do I sacrifice certain freedoms and privacy simply because one system is easier for me to use? What if one company does not “play well” with others; should I still opt to support that company by paying for their technology? What if it’s revealed that one system makes less of an impact on environment and makes more positive contributions to humanity? Moreover, we use technology every single day, and these devices run certain software on them. When we use or pay for our technology, we are essentially supporting a company and becoming part of a community. The question for me became what sort of community do I want to be apart of? In making this choice, we can look at a variety of factors. Of course, Linux is easy to use these days, and I can get things done on it that I need to get done, but for me, Linux additionally became the best ethical option and a friendlier community to be a part of: it is less concerned with maximizing profit as proprietary software companies are (it’s more about freedom); using Linux reduces obsolescence and e-waste by fifty percent (this is not surprising because it places less demand on hardware); using Linux provides users with more freedom and control over their computing environment; and using Linux is more secure.

    Aside from that, there are also Linux-based projects that have the potential to help empower marginalized individuals and communities, by allowing them to be more technologically savvy. The Kano project, for example, is a cheap computer kit that allows children to build a computer and learn to code. One Laptop per Child is an organization that gives sturdy, open-source laptops to children in developing countries so they can learn about computing and technology. There are also organizations that recycle old computers by installing lightweight versions of Linux on them and giving them to individuals or families who may not be able to afford one. All of these projects are made possible because of free and open-source software and the communities that support them. It is this community that I choose to become a part of and support. To me, using Linux is the ethical choice, and I try to encourage others to use Linux too.

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

    I use two distributions. On my main laptop, I used to use Ubuntu, but I am not a fan of the way Canonical is moving these days. With this in mind, I’m slowly moving away from that distro and I’m currently using Mint for my research. I’ll probably switch to an Arch distro eventually, though (I hear it’s what all the cool kids are using).

    My other laptop has Kali Linux on it for hacking and learning about computer security.

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

    I’m using Cinnamon right now. It’s pretty and highly customizable.

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

    Most of the software that I use on my main laptop I can get on any distro, but I really enjoy Mendeley for keeping my academic bibliographies organized for papers. It is also really easy to use with LibreOffice for citing (this is something academics need to do all the time). Moreover, I can drag copies of the papers I’m citing into the program, and it will automatically create a citation for me. I can then look at certain sections of the paper, highlight, and make notes all within the program itself. It’s just a great academic tool, and it’s totally free.

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

    For my main machine, I use a Lenovo Thinkpad T440. It’s rugged and really holds together nicely for putting in my briefcase and taking to the office.

    For my hacking machine, I’m using a Sony VAIO T13 Ultrabook. It’s silver, light, shiny, sleek, and sexy.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?


Raymond Aldred's desktop

Interview conducted April 3, 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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