The Linux Setup – Alan Dillman, Linux Hiker

I met Alan through Quora. I knew he’d make a great interview and I was right! As he writes, he’s a person who likes to tinker, and the tinkering he does in his physical life translates well to Linux. I wouldn’t say I’m done tinkering with Linux, because that’s rarely an option, but it’s not something I necessarily relish anymore. However, I do respect and appreciate the people who are brave and smart enough to experiment and make cool new things using Linux, much like Alan does.

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

    My name is Alan Dillman. I am Canadian, aged 44 as of November 2016.

    I enjoy hiking in the mountains near my home, jogging, and outdoor activities, such as camping, and do this often.

    I’m into wood, metal working, and electronics fabrication, as well as programming.

    I’ve done half a dozen home renovations, and currently act as a handyman for a few rental properties. Some of the most fun aspects involve customizing things for residents.

    Using my skill set, I’ve begun creating software, devices, and tools for people with special physical requirements, both impairments and regular specific needs. Some of these are inspired from my own life, both by people I meet, and ideas I have had.

    For instance, I optimized the toolbox in Inkscape for a friend. A five-minute fix and a recompile and his workflow was improved.

    Next on my list is to make a set of kitchen knives for myself. The skills I gain will be used to provide tools for people with arthritis and other grip issues. Or just to make beautiful things.

    The main inspiration for my business comes from 30 years ago. When I was a teen, my high school guidance counselor asked me if I might help a young man. Nerve and muscle damage from a car accident had impeded his hobby of drawing. My counselor thought drawing with a mouse might restore the young man’s talent. I was asked to help because I was one of the rare kids with a home computer. A fancy 286+! I think it had a 10 megabyte hard drive? Ha!

    The idea was to try my machine, then his caretaker would assess whether or not to purchase one for him. We met twice. The experience turned out less than optimal, and in the MS-DOS days, there wasn’t a lot of fine-tuning to be done with computer periphrals. It was a frustrating experience for that man. It has bothered me ever since, and I realized that I now have skills which would let me help people in those sorts of circumstances. Plus I love creating stuff!

    For employment I am in the vending business. I do machine repair, and also supply a remote petroleum camp with snacks and sundry supplies like toothbrushes. I am rather distant from my employer, so the job requires a lot of self-motivation. On the other hand, it provides a lot of freedom. To go hiking. And start my own business.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I use Linux because I must meddle with things. I like breaking and fixing software other people have made. I like making my own. I like seeing what’s out there and what is possible.

    Overall, Linux is a wonderful environment that lets me poke my nose in all sorts of interesting files. Other operating systems would not condone this, so they are of little interest to me. Why eat hamburger out when you have steak at home, right?

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

    I use Ubuntu.

    At times in the past I have used Crunchbang Linux, and like many other people, I have tried quite a few distributions. I’m not hung-up on Ubuntu, I just find their minimal image CD to be useful as a base system.

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

    I run Openbox for a desktop environment, using bits and pieces that I have written for my own use and enjoyment. Openbox provides a minimum of functionality, allowing me freedom to write what I need. Currently I use tint2 as a taskbar/panel. Someday I will replace that with my own.

    I’m not too interested in software like Unity, KDE, and GNOME, as I feel the goal of those environments is a uniform and standardized user experience. This conflicts with my desire to replace individual elements of the desktop with my own creations.

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

    Python, and Geany as an editor. I program primarily in Python. In addition to that, there are bits and pieces of software I have created for myself. There is so much satisfaction in using what you make, and making what you need.

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

    I’ll include that in the screenshot!

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    NO!

    Just kidding.

    Most everything you see is at least customized. I have to change things and will never be satisfied with someone else’s vision. Wallpapers are set at log in (or whenever) via a script called randwall.

    I have two monitors. On monitor one you can see the shutdown menu that I wrote for myself using pyqt. A friend provided the icons. I created the “menu” button too, since tint2 lacks this feature. Both have been rewritten three to four times over the years, and I expect I am not done there.

    You can also see some system stats displayed using neofetch. I just found it and I really like it.

    On monitor two is a series of lists (using conky), which are controlled via bash scripts in terminal. At the top is a little date/time bar. It is a new project which eventually will become a replacement for the tint2 panel at the bottom of monitor one.

Interview conducted October 3, 2016


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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