I found L.J. on Mastodon (hi!), and I’m so glad I did. This is a fantastic set-up and finding Linux story. And I love the emphasis on learning, which is a fun side-effect of working with Linux; you can’t help but learn stuff. L.J. uses Arch and no desktop environment, which seems impressive to me. It’s another thing I appreciate about L.J’s setup: it comes from a vision.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m L.J., a translator, researcher, and writer living in Korea. I translate between English and Korean, with legal documents my bread-and-butter. But I’ve also worked with tabletop roleplaying books, art history, literature, and more. I’ve also written a couple of books in my research field and was the lead writer of an educational video series about biodiversity and international law. My main online presence is on my Mastodon account: https://rage.love/@ljwrites .
Why do you use Linux?
Frankly it was that or buy a new computer. I used MacOS from 2015 to 2020, but my hardware couldn’t keep up with the OS updates. When I held back on updates to preserve my customizations and maintain performance I found myself increasingly unsupported and abandoned, unable to install or update apps. My machine, a 2015 Macbook Air, had been made purposefully impossible to upgrade and I either had to abandon a perfectly functional machine or resign myself to a total lack of support.
Even worse, I looked over the new features for the latest OS updates and found nothing that would enhance my experience as a user; just more features designed to monetize me as a customer making recurring payments, and lock me into the Apple ecosystem. It was clear that the support for my older Air was not there in the long term and Apple was taking its personal computing environment in a direction I disagreed with.
I wasn’t new to Linux or free software. I had a little experience using Ubuntu from about a decade back, and had been interested for some years in free and open source software developments. So I thought, why not Linux? And if I was going to move anyway, I figured it was better do it sooner rather than later so I could learn and settle down on my new system. The Mac environment wasn’t getting any friendlier to me with time anyway, and I decided not to stick around until things became completely intolerable.
Cue a trial period with Linux on a virtual machine, a flurry of research and preparation, then taking the jump to wipe Mac OS off the machine to do a bare-metal installation of Linux. The Macbook Air is now a Linux machine that I am much happier with.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
I use Arch. The choice was originally because of resource constraints, since my switch to Linux started out on a VM sharing space on a machine where I had very little storage and less RAM to spare. I liked how lean Arch started out, with practically nothing on the system except what I chose to put there. The package management was great, too, and I liked the idea of a rolling release and the AUR—basically all the reasons people cite for using Arch and derivatives. That’s why I decided to continue on with Arch to do a bare-metal install on the whole machine. I love the feeling of building a system just for me, piece by piece, that grows with me as I learn.
What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?
The i3 Window Manager without a desktop environment. One of the reasons I chose vanilla Arch was because it didn’t come by default with a DE that I wouldn’t use anyway. On my previous systems, Windows and MacOS, I’d already been trying to use the desktop like a tiling window manager before I knew about tiling window managers. I hid away the dock by default, set keyboard shortcuts to resize and move windows, and always took up as much space as possible with my working windows. So once I learned about tiling window managers I figured, hey, why not cut out the middleman and go WM-only? And it’s working great for me so far, with less mouse usage, instant switching between workspaces, and easy configurability—all on an environment that stays out of my way while I do my job.
What one piece of Linux software do you depend upon? Why is it so important?
Emacs! It’s optimized to Linux and similar systems. I use Emacs for so many things, drastically cutting down on the number of apps I use and more tightly integrating my workflow within Emacs. Emacs is not only my plaintext editor but also my to-do and schedule manager, which integrates writing and research tracking (Org Mode/Org Agenda), terminal emulator for everyday use (term-mode), file manager (Dired), Git interface (Magit), and email software (Mu4e). I’m typing these answers right now in Emacs, in fact.
I also use Evil Mode and related packages for Vim-style keybindings in all modes. For me it’s the best of both worlds. I chose to start with vanilla Gnu Emacs and build my way up from there, because while the Emacs distros like Spacemacs and Doom Emacs are fantastic, I’d rather know everything that’s going on with my configuration so I know how to fix and change things. Again, I like the feeling of building my computing environment as I learn.
What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?
The aforementioned Macbook Air, a 2015 model with dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB RAM, and 230GB or so of SSD. I actually use it as a desktop replacement these days, kept in its cubby and hardly ever opened except on the rare occasion I need to boot it up, with a flatscreen across the room connected through an HDMI dongle, a vertically rotated Dell monitor attached via USB using DisplayLink, and a mechanical keyboard and Bluetooth trackball as input devices.
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
This is the Emacs Mu4e screen I’m writing in. With Emacs set at 80% opacity with Picom, the background—a random selection from screenshots of the video game Gris—shows through, which is like a visual equivalent of background music that keeps my ADHD brain from getting bored.
The second screenshot is the wallpaper in full on an empty workstation, with a few more workspaces populated to show the Nerd Font icons I put in the i3bar.
Interview conducted March 22, 2021