The Linux Setup – Joseph Reagle, Academic

Joseph is a great example of why Linux is so important. He obviously knows how he wants his computer to work and Linux lets him craft an environment that works in exactly that way. I tend to focus on academics, because I work in academia, but I think anyone who spends a lot of time in front of a computer, as academics do, has a personal relationship with their machine. Linux lets us personalize our work spaces. And personalized work spaces make for happy (and productive) users.

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

    I’m Joseph Reagle, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. My latest book, Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web, was published in April 2015 by The MIT Press. I also published Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia in 2010. I’m currently working on life hacking and geek feminism topics.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I first encountered Linux around 1993, at about the same time I created my first Web page. I was a computer science student, and I remember downloading it on to about 40 3.5″ floppy disks and taking it home where my brother and I installed it on our PC. It was great to have multiple terminals available on your own PC: I could have a news reader (trn), email client (pine), editor (Emacs), and a compiler running concurrently. Back then, it was quite a challenge to get X working, I still have nightmares about editing modeline files, but it was a delight to finally see those xeyes!

    Since then, GNU/Linux has been the most hospitable environment for doing the things the way I’m used to.

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

    My choice was influenced by my colleagues at the W3C. Initially, I used a really nice Windows workstation Philip DesAutels wrangled for me—and I remember being scolded by Richard Stallman! A few years later, Daniel Veillard mounted a campaign in favor of Red Hat. When he left to go work there, I followed the lead of the systems guys (like Eric Prud’hommeaux and Hugo Haas) towards Debian. At some point, I noticed that whenever I went to the Web with a question, I ended up in the Ubuntu forums. The distribution was relatively current, easy to use, and the community was great. I’m now running Kubuntu 14.04 LTS.

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

    I’ve been using KDE since some version of 1.0 . I used to experiment with other environments but I no longer like to tinker. I just want it to work the way I expect.

    One of my great frustrations is my dependence on speech recognition. There was a brief time, around 1999, when IBM’s ViaVoice was available on Linux. But since then, I’ve been dependent on running some version of Dragon in a virtualized Windows environment. Speech recognition is now getting to be pretty good on Macs (via Dragon and natively), so I’m considering that as an option. I had high hopes for the KDE Simon project but it’s no longer active.

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

    Package management (apt-get) is the thing that really sets GNU/Linux distributions apart from anything else.

    Otherwise, I love Zim wiki. It is cross platform (it works well on Windows and is a bit creaky on OS X), but it first emerged in the Linux sphere. I also rely upon the Freemind mindmapper. I write everything in markdown, and use pandoc to produce syllabi, lectures, papers, and books.

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

    Nothing too special. A Dell Vostro 270s at home and a System76 Wild Dog Performance at work.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Better yet, here’s a screencast of some tools I use for research and writing.

Interview conducted November 19, 2015


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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