The Linux Setup – Alois Mahdal, Red Hat

Alois has a great setup. I’m especially intrigued by the deployment of config files. Tweaking a fresh install is easier and easier, but there are still things that need to be set-up manually. Things like your Git files. Being able to pull everything down seems to make things super easy. I also very much share Alois’ affection for the ThinkPad TrackPoint. I’m pretty much useless on any laptop without one. I don’t know why more people don’t love them like we do.

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

    My name is Alois Mahdal, and I’m enthusiastic about free/libre/open culture. I love coding, and my favorite types of software are tests and development tools. I don’t call myself hacker because that would be awkward—that word is a compliment (obviously the original sense, not the “bad guy who stole your grandma’s credit card” sense).

    I’m currently working as Quality Assurance Engineer at Red Hat. About 50% of that is investigating bugs (in own or others’ code); the rest is writing tests (mostly in Bash) and developing tools to help with automation.

    When I’m not coding or torturing some poor machine, I love listening to podcasts, watching educational videos on YouTube, reading graphic novels, exploring new music, playing games (mostly indie from GOG) or wandering around this lovely town called Brno.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I’ve used Linux exclusively for over five years, and less-than-exclusively for even more. I’ve been aware of it for much longer but the main turning point was some time in the 2000s when I really started to learn about open culture and how it actually works.

    Boy, do I remember that revelation: the realization that underneath the absurd mask of commercial software, there is such a massive public network of communities, bringing together people to work according to all the best principles of collaboration there are (transparency, independence, patience, freedom…) and constantly bringing results so often superior to the alternative? It changed the way I look at humanity forever. If I only could repay it somehow…

    That life-calling would be enough, but on top of that, GNU/Linux rewards you in so many ways: the freedom and flexibility it gives you, the things that you can do with your machine if you only want to learn how, the way it boosts your learning (hey, man pages?), what it does with some security-related questions (package management versus google-and-trust-some-setup.exe); any of those things would be reward in itself.

    I could sing this song for hours, so I’ll just stop here.

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

    At work I use Fedora, at home I use Debian. I’m still more of a Debianist at heart, although since I joined Red Hat I have learned a lot about Fedora and I can definitely confirm there are “greener” patches of grass on each side. (Actually, last time I had dual-boot setup, it was Debian/Fedora!)

    So I’m pretty happy with sailing on both ships. With Jolla in my pocket, I ain’t afraid of no seas!

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

    i3 with Urxvt pretty much takes care of everything. Own scripts (chained together with dmenu) handle things like app menus, locking, laptop hibernation, so maybe Thunar is the only “desktop environment” app I use.

    GUIs I often use are Claws Mail and web browsers. In that category I use sort of a mixup of qutebrowser, Firefox and vimb. Oh, and when it comes to music, Clementine, Picard and Sound Juicer together pretty much fulfill all my needs.

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

    As I mentioned, I do a lot of coding, so I spend most of my time in a terminal emulator, constantly switching between Vim, Git, Bash and usually some ssh session to a testing machine. And few qutebrowser windows here and there.

    The apps are not strictly GNU/Linux-specific, but it’s actually i3 and native Bash that let me link everything together in a way that I can make the most of it.

    That’s the top-down look. I think the bottom-up look may be even more interesting. I actually have sort of a meta-setup: user config files are shared amongst all of my machines. Many of these “dotfiles” are on GitHub, and I have scripts that let me deploy the whole thing to a new box in minutes. This sounds a bit like over-engineering, but I did it pretty long time ago and it paid off many times since: every little tweak I do (from Git alias to bash script or function to vim setting), I do everywhere, and I can always experiment, revert, and review.

    I would never have been able to do anything like that without symlinks, Git and sync tools like OwnCloud (which I’ve replaced with Syncthing). This setup is possible because with GNU/Linux distros (thanks to Yum and Apt) I always have these tools on hand.

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

    My most productive layout is a ThinkPad laptop with two 16×9 monitors: one in landscape mode above the laptop, and the other one in portrait mode on the right side. A simple, reliable wired mouse, a cheap SlimStat i220 keyboard, good headphones, and that’s pretty much it.

    Speaking of laptops, I’ve actually never used a laptop other than ThinkPad and I’ve grown so accustomed to the TrackPoint that I’ll probably never be able to!

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure, although given my strange layout, I wonder if it will be usable on your blog.

    Quiz question: the i3 color scheme is inspired by …. ?

    (answer: ` rev <<<"x.1 hcnebkroW agimA" `, although I had to make some compromises.)

Interview conducted May 22, 2018

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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