In April 11, 2012, I did an interview with The Setup which is online at http://benjamin.mako.hill.usesthis.com/. Over time, my technology use changes but I don't get to update the website very often. As a result, I've tried to keep a changelog here where I update lists of major pieces of software that I adopt. Between that interview and this changelog, you should be able to get a pretty comprehensive idea of what I'm using.
I often try out and evaluate new technologies but usually reject them. I'm adding things to this list only when I've been using the technology for long enough that I'm comfortable calling it part of my setup. So if someone is listed as "December 2015" (for example) it's very likely that I've been using and experimenting with it for months, or even years, already.
- (January 2013) I've migrated my personal blog, and all of the other blogs that I maintain, from PyBlosxom to Wordpress. You can read more about my experience and rationale on my blog.
- (April 2013) I've started using mosh instead of ssh for most of my interactive shells. It works wonderfully on high latency connections and in situations where you're frequently moving around. It use remote terminals quite a lot and this has been a huge upgrade.
- (April 2013) I've started a long process of switching my slides from LibreOffice/OpenOffice over to LaTeX Beamer. Now that I'm becoming a teacher, I want to make sure I invest my time in teaching materials that I love and that will work over the long haul. The missing pieces for me in Beamer will mostly filled by pdfpc (a former version of which was called pdf-presenter-console) which is something I was previously using quite a bit in openoffice. Reproducing my slides and doing all the things I used to be able to do in LO/OO is a challenge but so far I'm pretty happy with it. I've posted details on getting setup with my Beamer setup over on my research collective's wiki.
- (September 2013) Bose has discontinued the MediaMate speakers long ago so I've replacing them as they break and wear out with their Companion 2 Series III speakers which seem to occupy the same niche in the Bose product line. They do all the same things and I'll buy them again.
- (September 2013) I very rarely need headphones but I do need them sometimes and I prefer big over-the-ear models to earbuds. In my office, I keep a pair of Aerial7 Tank headphones (I learned about these from Matt Boch) which, in all honestly, I only chose because they sound reasonable and they are bright orange, pink, and blue). In my backpack I keep a pair of SkullCandy earbuds which I literally found on the ground at airport. Honestly, I'm more excited about the little phone headphone case I found them in which has basically eliminated tangles in my backpack! Both fulfill my needs but if you listen through headphones frequently, my advice is to look for advice elsewhere.
- (September 2013) When I wrote the original setup article, I bemoaned not knowing how to replace my IBM Model M keyboard with a trackpoint. Rejoice! Unicomp's EudraPro Black Spring USB is a Model M — made on the exact same machines which have been sold several times — and it has a trackpoint built in. I can't say enough good things about it. It comes in three colors and none that are particularly attractive. At the time of writing, I own three of them.
- (January 2014) After many months of research, I replaced an old Chrome bag with a Mission Workshop Rambler bag and I am beyond thrilled with it. It's the best all-purpose, all-weather cycling gear I own and I use it every single day. If I had had multiple separated waterproof pockets a decade ago, it would have saved me replacing at least once laptop.
- (May 2014) I've moved on to another X series laptop. This time it's the second-generation, type “20A7″ Lenovo X1 Carbon. This is the laptop with the strange LCD-powered F-key strip above the keyboard. With the laptop, it also made sense to switch to the ThinkPad OneLink Pro Dock. I've documented the specifics of installing GNU/Linux on the devices on my blog. Don't let the switch from the square adapter get you down. It's the same voltage (20v) as the round yellow round adapters so you get just buy this $5 adapter and gain an extra adapter you can leave in other places you use your laptop.
- (October 2014) With my move from MIT/Harvard to UW, I've also switched supercomputers and am now using UW-IT's Hyak. It's node-based queuing instead of process-based queuing and the IO is much faster but it's the same basic "high-performance computing" model.
- (December 2014) I've completed a nearly complete migration away from LibreOffice which I now only use for reading Office documents. All of my slides that I've developed for teaching are in LaTeX beamer and I've actually gotten pretty good at using TikZ for doing graphics and layout. The learning curve was step but things are great up at the top of it.
- (December 2014) I'm trying to focus more on using Python and the Scientific Python stack wherever possible in my research. Although I'm comfortable with R and many other languages, having one language to work with my students in is deeply useful. This one is going to a very long multi-year project.
- (July 2015) I've dumped the Kindle DX in favor of the Sony DPTS1. It's unbelievably lightweight, incredibly fast, fantastic for highlighting and note-taking with a great multi-touch eInk screen. For someone in my line of work where reading student papers and research papers is the name of the game, it's fantastic. I don't have very high opinion of its manufacturer but it's a "Bizarro" Sony product in many (good) ways: no DRM, only reads/writes standards compliant PDFs readable with free software, no support for any proprietary formats, only speaks WebDAV over the wire. Just try to not remember that it's a $800 PDF reader and that it does effectively nothing else.
- (August 2015) I've started using OwnCloud for storing images synced directly from my phone automatically. I'm also using OwnCloud for hosting my calendar and contacts which I love. I sync these using CalDav and CardDav to my Android phone using some pretty awesome free software sync tools available in FDroid. I'm using IceDove (i.e., Debian-branded Mozilla Thunderbird) as my desktop-based client for both calendar and contacts although I sometimes just use the OwnCloud web interface for contacts.
- (October 2015) I've switched my phone to a OnePlus Two. I still don't really use it more than I absolutely need to.
- (November 2015) I've completely switched to standing desks at both home and at work. At home, I've used a couple different plans from Ikea Hackers including this classic one and a similar one with six legs but without the second shelf. At work, I used my startup budget to buy a Mod-E standing desk from Multitable. This desk is adjustable but the reality is that I almost never sit. I do keep tall chairs or stools nearby to "perch." In both cases, I just use a cheap tall chair/stool from Ikea or similar. At both home/work, I have gone for the longest desktop possible so I'm set up for collaboration with others. I use a Crown King Comfort anti-fatigue mat to help making standing comfortable but I've used others and don't really think it's really anything unique or very special. Many other matts are just as good but I haven't found any that I think are much better.
- (December 2015) An essential piece of furniture that I've now adopted at both home at work is the Jasmine Bookstand from BestBookStand. Although I do sometimes use it in the more obvious ways for putting papers, notes, or books in a place where they are visible, I mostly use it as a way to hold my laptop above my desk surface so that it is at appropriate/ergonic eye-level for use with an external keyboard (i.e., the EnduraPro at home/work and the HappyHacking when traveling). The bookstand itself folds up compactly for travel with a external keyboard.
- (December 2015) In a slightly strange change, I've switched away from using org-mode for basically all short-term task tracking. What I use now is... a piece of paper. I still use org-mode for tracking my progress on long term projects and for nearly all note-taking but I find that for things I plan to do today having this on a fresh page of a notepad is perfect. It also creates a strong incentive to make sure I finish my daily tasks each day so that I don't have to carry over any tasks to the new page tomorrow.
- (December 2015) Since I give lectures as part of my job, I decided to invest in a good presenter remote. I literally searched and sorted by price descending to see what the top of the line could do. I ended up with the $80 Logitech R800. It has every major feature available in any other presenter remote except storage which I'm happy to not have. I use it for several hours a week during teaching quarters and I've got zero regrets.
- (December 2015) I have mostly switched from GNU Screen to tmux. The experience is similar but tmux is much easier to configure and tweak and it's much easier to build a powerful and informative status bar.
- (December 2015) I think at this point, I can declare that I've switched completely to Python 3 for all of my own code, for all of my research, and for my teaching. It's been more than 10 years since Python 3 was released and I think it's not only time to move to Python 3 but perhaps even time to stop supporting Python 2 in our modules. There are many things I like about Python 3 but the main reason I've switched is for Unicode support — especially across platforms.
- (March 2016) After my OnePlusTwo got swamped on a very rainy bike tour along the central Californian coast, I moved to the Nexus 5x as my phone. It's tougher, and more rugged than any phone I've since I moved away from Nokia feature phones. And its insured. When I'm going biking in the rain, snowboarding ,or mountaineering, I keep it in a plastic bag. I still don't use email on my phone and have only about a dozen "apps" installed. I continue to use my phone for texting, maps, tethering my laptop, and little else.
- (July 2016) After my second laptop in a row broke down due to overheating problems, I've started using a Coolermaster Storm SF-17 which is a laptop stand with a fan designed for gamers. I've come to conclude that modern laptops are simply not made to run full-throttle over extended periods of time without causing themselves permanent damage. The SF-17 looks ridiculous (designed for Cardassians, perhaps?) but it solves two problems: (i) it really does keep the laptop cool even when it's compressing video or estimating a model; (ii) it effectively raises the laptop a good 30cm into the air which solves a ergonomic problem I'd previous been using the Jasmine book stand to solve (see above).
- (July 2017) After a bunch of research and good advice from some audiophiles in my lab, I bought a decent set of headphones for keeping on my desk at work. I opted for KRK Systems KNS-6400 which run around $100. You can get better headphones for more money but I'm not sure you get other headphones this solid for this price. I use them mostly for videochat but I do use them music too (various genres) and their sounds is really quite excellent. The value, of course, is excellent.
- (January 2018) It was time to replace my laptop and I went ahead and it won't be shocking to find out that I opted for the 5th generation (circa 2017-2018) Lenovo X1 carbon. Lenovo has finally upped the maximum memory usage to 16GB (from the 8GB it stagnated at forever) and it's been wonderful. As part of the process, I moved to a Thunderbolt dock. It's kind of incredible to think that the next time I buy a laptop, I might not need to also buy a new dock!
- (January 2018) I took the opportunity while moving to a new laptop to setup a laptop that never held any PGP key material on its drive. I'm currently using two different YubiKey 4s (a Nano USB-C and a normal-sized USB-A). I typically leave the Nano USB-C in the port and use the USB-A only as a backup. I'm using the key for signing, encrypting, authentication and Fido U2F. It's a fantastic device and I wish I had moved to it earlier.
- (May 2018) After losing my phone in a snowbank on Mt. Rainier, I bought a Motorola X4. I bought the normal more-expensive unlocked and hackable one rather than opting for the one from Google (that you can only use with Project Fi) or the one from Amazon (that shows you advertisements you cannot turn off!). I continue to use it for as little as possible and not care very much about any of its fancier features. I do like that it's quite water resistant.
If you've got any questions about my setup or suggestions, don't hesitate to leave a public comment on my blog or email me at email@example.com.