The Linux Setup - Lee Hachadoorian, Geographer
It’s kind of surprising to realize this, but Lee Hachadoorian is the first The Linux Setup interviewee I’ve met face-to-face. We were both on a panel that actually didn’t have much to do with Linux, but once I saw what Lee was doing with it, I knew he’d be perfect here.
Lee does a great job outlining an academic Linux setup. His love of Freeplane is also worth noting. It seems like an intriguing way to organize complex work.
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Lee Hachadoorian. I am a geographer who recently completed a PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center. My focus is on using geographic information systems (GIS) and other geospatial tools for urban analysis. My dissertation was on the relationship between metropolitan fragmentation and spatial inequality/segregation. I currently teach GIS at NYU-Poly and work as a Research Assistant at CUNY Center for Urban Research. I’m a backpacker, yogi, and gamer. I use games in my teaching. Last week I had my students do a treasure hunt in downtown Brooklyn and import their GPS tracks into a GIS software.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
Ubuntu 10.04 with the GNOME desktop, but if you ask me in another week or two, the answer will be Ubuntu 12.04 (I stick to the LTSes). I don’t see anything compelling about Unity, so I will probably continue to use GNOME. I run the same distro on my home desktop, my laptop, and a VM on my work computer (which is Windows). For that matter, I also run it on my daughter’s laptop (a six or seven year old Dell), my father’s laptop (after Windows XP completely self-destructed), and an old laptop which my mother keeps as a secondary (her primary laptop is still Windows).
When I switched to Linux four years ago, I didn’t know anyone who was using Linux for personal computing (i.e., not on a server or development machine). So, honestly, I went with Ubuntu because message boards and distrowatch.com pegged it as the most popular. I mean, if you’ve never hiked solo before, you should probably stay where you’re likely to run into other hikers, at least until you know what you’re doing. Since then, even though I’ve been curious about the other distros out there, I haven’t ever been dissatisfied with Ubuntu. I’ve made some half-hearted forays, particularly in trying some LXDE variants (Linux Mint LXDE, Lubuntu, and Ubuntu with the LXDE metapackage installed) on older hardware, but it’s easier for me in my role of family tech support to keep everyone on the same distro, and even on the older hardware Ubuntu performs tolerably well.
What software do you depend upon with this distribution?
I’m going to start with the software you don’t know you need: Freeplane is a mind-mapping software that is absolutely amazing. Mind-mapping is a brainstorming tool, but it can be used for almost anything. I’ve used Freeplane for project planning, procedure documentation, general note-taking, and writing. In fact, I started my dissertation in a word processor but switched to Freeplane (it can export to many formats including ODT), because I could see the detail and the overall structure of my dissertation at the same time, which helped me keep my thoughts organized. Some people also use mind-mapping for to-do lists and task management (I’ve been less successful in this regard).
Freeplane and most of the tools I use are cross-platform. Where possible, I try to find cross-platform tools, both because my work computer is Windows, and because when I discover a great application, I want to be able to recommend it to the whole world! So assume the applications I mention are cross-platform, except where otherwise noted.
Productivity: OpenOffice, Freeplane, Getting Things GNOME! (Linux only), PDF-Shuffler, calibre (ebook library management, I use it with my Kindle).
Data: PostgreSQL/PostGIS, Sqliteman (SQLite GUI), gmdb (MDB Viewer, allows you to browse and export data from MS Access databases).
Entertainment: Clementine Music Player (fork of the popular Amarok 1.4). I have a Bluetooth music bridge that pipes the output to the stereo, so the computer is our primary music player.
GIS: This is not on everyone’s list of must-have software, but is central to my work. I use Quantum GIS which is great, and getting even better at a rapid pace due to its easy extensibility and strong developer community. Also, the aforementioned PostGIS.
Statistics: R, RStudio. R is taking the world by storm. It has an incredibly active user community, and rich ecosystem of add-ons. RStudio is an amazing IDE for R, which makes R coding much easier.
Virtualization: VirtualBox. I still have to run some Windows software, and VirtualBox lets me do so. I also use it to try out other Linux distros (for example, I’m using it right now to preview Ubuntu 12.04), including some specialized distros like OSGeo-Live, a Xubuntu-based distro that is packed with open source geospatial software.
Communication: Thunderbird, Skype. I know everything is about webmail these days, and I do use Gmail as my primary email, but I still much prefer using a desktop email client, for functionality, data ownership, backup, and offline access/composition.
Backup: The line between software and service is blurring. Obviously, you wouldn’t run SpiderOak without the associated cloud-based backup service. But everyone should be running a backup software and for me this is the one. Cross-platform, built-in sync (I have my home Ubuntu setup and my work Windows setup synced via SpiderOak). 2 GB for free, 100 GB for $100 annualy, $50 for those of you with .edu email addresses!
What kind of hardware do you run it on?
My desktop is a Dell Inspiron 530s Pentium E2140, 6 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD + 500 GB HDD. The SSD was added about a year ago, and it really has noticeably increased performance, particularly boot-up time and application launch times. I also added an NVIDIA GeForce 7200GS graphics card which is connected to our TV to watch Hulu, Amazon Instant Videos, etc.
This was a pretty low-powered machine even when I bought it four years ago, but I’m amazed at how well it performs running Ubuntu. Even when I retire it for day-to-day computing (which is not in the near future), I think it will probably survive indefinitely as an entertainment system.
My laptop is a Lenovo Y560p i7, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD. The keyboard recently started acting like it was demon-possessed. This YouTube video diagnosed the problem and showed me how to fix it by opening up the laptop and shielding the keyboard cable with a square cut from an anti-static sheet.
What is your ideal Linux setup?
You mean my current setup isn’t my ideal?
Seriously, my ideal setup evolves incrementally from my current setup to satisfy changing needs and desires. One thing that is not part of my ideal setup is a lot of eye candy. I played around with a lot of the Compiz stuff, but quickly went back to the basic no-visual-effects desktop environment. I found that all those moving mini-windows that pop up when you Alt+Tab for switching applications were difficult to visually process, and actually slowed down my work.
One thing that my ideal setup would have is brainless video support. I know there’s a lot of open source tools out there that are extremely powerful and will let you do pretty much anything you want, but I have no patience for it. I can spend hours working with GIS or stats, but when I copy a video of my daughter from my cellphone to my computer and find out that it’s sideways, the last thing in the world that I want to do is to spend a lot of time figuring out how to rotate it 90°.
- Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
Interview conducted April 28, 2012