The Linux Setup – Scott Gilbertson, Writer

Scott’s an amazing Linux usage case. He lives off the grid! And he uses Linux for pragmatic, rather than political reasons. Which is nice to hear. While Linux does have lots of social and political advantages, a large part of why I use it is because I think it’s an amazing operating system that allows me to do my best work. And now, thanks to Scott, I know I could do that work in a ’69 Dodge Travco, if push came to shove.

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

    My name is Scott Gilbertson. I am a writer (I write about free software for Wired, Ars Technica and others), and Python developer. I live with my wife and three children on the road in a 1969 Dodge Travco. I write about life on the road at my personal site luxagraf.net.

    We live off the grid with all our power coming from solar and a relatively slow 4G modem as our only network connection, which has influenced my choice of hardware and software somewhat. I like to keep things simple, the simpler the better.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    This probably sounds like damning with faint praise, but in the end I use it because it sucks less than everything else.

    While I agree with much of the philosophy behind free software, I’m too practical to use things that don’t work the way I need them to. If Linux didn’t work the way I need it too, honestly, I’d find something else.

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

    I run Arch Linux. I frequently test (and review) software and the Arch User Repository makes this so much easier than trying to compile things myself. Not that compiling is hard, but I seldom actually keep these things around and removing software you compiled yourself (along with it’s unneeded dependencies) is a pain. The AUR and pacman make it very simple to manage all that.

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

    What I look for in a desktop is something that stays out of my way. So for a long time I didn’t really use a desktop, just a window manager.

    For years I used Openbox (which I discovered using CrunchBang Linux), but recently I became a little worried about Openbox’s future. There’s never going to be a Wayland port and at some point Wayland will likely be the default display manager for most distros.

    About a month ago I switched to i3 because it’s minimal and there’s already a Wayland port (Sway). I like it so far, though I admit I use it more like Openbox than the proper tiling window manager it is. But it does what I want, has plenty of keyboard shortcuts and generally stays out of the way.

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

    Almost everything I do these days happens in a terminal. Aside from editing photos (darktable, GIMP) and browsing the web (Firefox) I’m almost always in the terminal (rxvt-unicode) and tabbed with Tmux.

    I depend on mutt and offlineimap for email, newsboat for RSS, rtorrent, mpd with ncmpcpp for music, ranger for browsing files, and last, but not least, I depend on Vim far more than anything else. All my writing is done in Vim, all my finances are tracked via beancount in Vim, I even use Evernote through Vim via geeknote and geeknote-vim.

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

    Lenovo x250, which I chose primarily for its small size and long battery life (with a six cell I can get about nine hours; more if I dim the screen a bit). It also isn’t hard to take apart so I can upgrade the hard drive and screen.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Unfortunately it’s pretty boring, but here’s a screenshot of my primary desktop.

Interview conducted December 19, 2017


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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