Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Linux Setup - Aaron Toponce, Director of System Administration

I first ran into Aaron via his essay about leaving Ubuntu. Aaron’s obviously a thoughtful technologist and that thoughtfulness comes through in his description of his setup, which is fantastic. His IRC workflow alone could almost be the subject of a book. And I love that he works in an office environment that prohibits Windows. That’s the dream for a lot of us (especially those of us who have spent some time with Windows 8).

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here and follow me on Twitter here.

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

    My name is Aaron Toponce. I am the Director of System Administration for a Utah based ISP named XMission. I am in charge of a couple of hundred servers, in varying degrees: mail servers, web servers, shared hosting, hypervisors, storage, etc. I even act as a failover network engineer for smallish problems. Just about everything we run is Ubuntu LTS on the server, and workstations must either be a GNU/Linux operating system or Mac OS X. Windows is too vulnerable to trust on our office network.

    Pete Ashdown is my boss. You’ve probably heard of him. He has been getting a lot of press lately standing up to the NSA, not allowing them access to the infrastructure at all. It’s awesome working for him, and working for such a great company.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I started using GNU/Linux back in 1999, shortly after I got married. We were in need of a new computer, and being poor newly weds, I didn’t have the money to fork over for a brand new computer. So, I purchased a used one, but it had Windows 95 on it. My wife was a big Mac OS user (pre- OS X even), and I didn’t care for the Windows 95 interface. So, I was interested in something new.

    While at an electronics company, and browsing the bundled software aisle, I saw a box for Red Hat Linux 6, for $40. I had heard of Linux before, and knew it was an operating system, or something, so I figured I would give it a try. I installed it on our used computer, only to accidentally remove the Windows 95 installation. Eventually, I learned about dual booting, partitions, and formatting filesystems. :)

    After getting a handle on things, I learned about Free Software and the GNU movement. I agreed with the ethics of Free Software, and in 2001, dropped all proprietary software from my personal computers, running only Free Software. My wife still had a Windows XP install until 2008, when it got a nasty virus, and she switched back to OS X.

    I use GNU/Linux now, rather than Mac OS X or Windows, because it offers everything I need as a system administrator and light developer. I’m familiar with the interfaces, the tools, and getting around the operating system. I know how to troubleshoot anything that is thrown my way, without much trouble, and usually, I can fix the problem. I still strongly believe in the ethics of Free Software, and that also drives my decision to choose the software that I do.

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

    I run Debian GNU/Linux on all of my machines. This includes my desktop, my Lenovo T61 laptop, and my HP netbook. If I could run Debian on my phone, I would.

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

    I prefer Awesome. I’ve always been a big tiling window manager user. On my netbook, I ran DWM for a couple years because it just got out of the way, and allowed me to take as much advantage of screen real estate as I could. Then I discovered Awesome, and have been running that since.

    Configuring power management on a laptop with something that doesn’t do it automatically for you, like GNOME or KDE however is a challenge. But once you get everything in shape, Awesome WM is very, very pleasant to use.

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

    I rely on ZNC, WeeChat, tmux and Bitlbee more than anything. But, they aren’t running on the computer from which the screenshot came from.

    I’ve been an IRC junky since roughly 2002, and have been permanently connected since 2005. All of my main communication go through it one way or another. Further, XMission uses IRC for all internal communication, and has Nagios, SMS, fax, and other bots configured to use it also (XMission was started in 1993, before XMPP or other more “modern” chat solutions existed).

    As such, I’ve created a Python script that sends an SMS alert to my phone while I am marked as “/away” in the IRC client. This way, I will always get notified of highlights or private messages. This has been critical for keeping on top of issues at work, and has also allowed me to see who is sharing my blog, and other things, in the many IRC channels that I hang out in.

    My setup has the ZNC bouncer running on a virtual machine. Bitlbee is running locally also, and is always connected to ZNC. Furthermore, I’ve launched WeeChat behind tmux on the same virtual machine, so I can take advantage of some WeeChat scripts. When I disconnect from tmux, then WeeChat will mark me as away automatically, which means I will then get push notifications of highlights and private messages, to my phone. In Bitlbee, I have some XMPP bots for various push notifications also.

    Long story short, this virtual machine is a messaging hub that I rely on for live push notifications that are important to me. And they all use SMS, so I don’t need to keep a running data connection on my phone, to save battery.

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

    I have two hypervisors that are using a shared ZFS storage using GlusterFS connected via 20 Gb Inifiniband. Each hypervisor has 8 AMD cores, with 32GB of DDR2 ECC registered ram. Each server has 4x1 TB drives in a ZFS RAID 1+0. Both hypervisors are running Debian GNU/Linux stable, and using KVM for the virtualization layer. The virtual machines are using image files rather than block devices to take advantage of the clustering for HA. My messaging VM has 1GB of RAM with 2 cores and 100GB of disk.

    You can read more about the setup here: https://plus.google.com/+AaronToponce/posts/CTDeruUFMse

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    I have three monitors connected using Xinerama (yeah, I don’t care about the wobbly windows or GPU acceleration). They are each Dell U2410 connected via DVI.

    On the left monitor is my main “monitoring” view. I have a custom Perl script I wrote for showing Nagios/Icinga alerts in a terminal. Working for an ISP means I’m also monitoring border traffic. So, I have a custom Perl script monitoring that. On the other workspaces are Nagstamon, virt-manager, and some custom tools for work.

    In the middle monitor, is my main messaging monitor. You can see IRC occupying most of the screen, with three separate Mutt instances on the right: personal, work and shool. On the other workspaces are Bitmessage, Thunderbord, and Hotot.

    On the right monitor is mainly my browser. In the screenshot, it’s viewing a Munin installation, in this case looking into a disk warning with one of our Exim servers. On the other workspaces are KeepassX and Zim.

Aaron Toponce's desktop

Interview conducted November 19, 2013


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.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here, follow me on Twitter here, and subscribe to the feed here.


Monday, January 6, 2014 Monday, November 25, 2013

The Linux Setup - Alberto Garcia, Software Developer

It’s no secret that a lot of people love OS X. My theory is that they love it because it makes sense to them and jives with their workflow, not that it’s inherently better than anything else. I say that not as an OS X hater but as someone who believes usability is subjective to a certain degree. I bet an even greater number of people love Windows the same way, but we probably don’t hear as much from them, possibly because they don’t realize there are other operating systems…

As Alberto points out, the strength of Linux is that it can be changed into whatever we need. So for those of us who don’t feel served by Windows and OS X, desktop Linux is the opportunity to create our own personal operating system. It’s harder than using stock setups, but the results are much more rewarding.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here and follow me on Twitter here.

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

    My name is Alberto Garcia. I’m a free software developer and one of the founding members of Igalia, an open source consultancy. Since the creation of the company I have worked in many different areas, but I was particularly involved in the Maemo/MeeGo platforms. Then I worked for a while in virtualization and device drivers, and at the moment I’m working on the WebKit GTK+ port. I’m also a Debian developer.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I started using it at university. First, because coming from the DOS/Windows world, it was something new and exciting. It was also very convenient: most servers and workstations we had at university were running some version of Unix, so with Linux, I could have a similar working environment at home.

    Back then it was not trivial to set up and tune the operating system, so I spent quite some time making things work. However, with that I learned an important thing: having complete and unrestricted access to the source code was something really powerful, and it made me realize this was how I wanted all of my software to be.

    Software should be a tool to make people’s lives easier. Putting restrictions on a program to prevent people from doing what they want to with it does the opposite.

    I liked the idea so much that I decided I wanted to work as close to that ideal as possible. Luckily, I found the right people and we founded Igalia with free software as one of our core values.

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

    I’ve been using Debian since the beginning, and that’s my distribution of choice in all my computers. In 1997 there were not so many other choices, and I think Debian was already quite solid. If I recall correctly, it also included a larger selection of software than most of the alternatives.

    I also like the idea that it’s entirely developed by a community of volunteers that anyone can join, which is why I decided to become a Debian developer myself.

    Of course I had the chance to try other distributions during all these years, but to be honest, I never saw a strong reason to consider switching.

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

    I’ve been using GNOME for a long time. We started working with it at Igalia in the early years because we saw in it a promising desktop environment and development platform.

    As much as I like to be able to tweak and modify my software, I also like it to get out of the way when I want to work, and I think GNOME succeeds pretty well in that. I’m also satisfied with all of the recent developments and I’m a happy GNOME 3 user.

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

    Leaving my Debian developer tasks aside, I don’t think I depend on anything specific to Debian in my daily work.

    I spend most of my time inside a source code repository, so my essential tools are git and Emacs. I also use mutt and notmuch to read my e-mail. Then of course there’s also the standard programs that everyone uses: a music player, a web browser — but I don’t have strong preferences with those. But I use the Epiphany webapp mode a lot.

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

    I’m using a ThinkPad X230 with an i7 processor, 12GB of RAM and an SSD hard drive. I’ve been using ThinkPads for years and I’m quite happy with them. They work pretty well with Linux and most hardware features work out of the box. I’m also so used to the trackpoint that I cannot see myself without it now.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    There it goes. It’s GNOME 3 with a few extensions, a couple of Emacs instances, a few shells, IRC client, web browser and media player.

Alberto Garcia's desktop

Interview conducted October 2, 2013


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.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here, follow me on Twitter here, and subscribe to the feed here.


Friday, November 8, 2013 Friday, August 23, 2013
The official pronunciation of Debian is ‘deb ee n’. The name comes from the names of the creator of Debian, Ian Murdock, and his wife, Debra.

A Brief History of Debian - Introduction — What is the Debian Project?

I never thought about where the name came from. Happy belated birthday, Debian.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Linux Setup - Dmitry, Linux Notes From DarkDuck

Dmitry interviewed me a few weeks ago and I thought it would be fun to repay the favor. By far the most interesting aspect of this setup is the fact that Dmitry chooses his distro by his mood at a given moment. Given that he’s running three different desktop environments on three different distros, that’s a pretty neat feat of mental gymnastics. I find it hard enough when I have to move from Chrome to Firefox.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here and follow me on Twitter here.

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

    My name is Dmitry, but on the Internet I prefer my nickname, DarkDuck. I am the person behind Linux Notes From DarkDuck.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    At one point I understood that Windows XP took about 10 minutes to boot on my laptop. Also, I understood that Linux ran on my smartphone HTC Desire at that time. I decided to give Linux a go, and since then I am in the Linux world.

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

    I run three Linux distributions on my laptop:

    • Debian 7.0 Xfce – because of the rock-solid stability of Debian. It also controls my GRUB2.
    • Mageia KDE – because I am in love with Mageia since day 1.
    • Linux Mint Cinnamon – because I really think this is a good combination of convenience, performance and functionality. I must admit that I disliked Mint in their early versions, mostly due to their overly complex menu. In my opinion, the current version does not have this issue.

    All of these are 64-bit. The “choice for the day” depends on my mood, but Mageia is the default option in the GRUB config.

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

    • Xfce – because it’s light and has all the features I need.
    • KDE – because of the eye-candy, of course.
    • Cinnamon – just to try something new.
  5. What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?

    I can’t say that I depend on any particular software. Although, I have some personal preferences: Chrome(-ium) over Firefox, VLC over other media players, LibreOffice over CalligraSuite or GNOME Office.

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

    My current laptop is a SONY VAIO VGN-NR21Z with dual core 2.1GHz Intel processor, 3GB RAM, 500Gb HDD, NVidia graphic card, Intel 4965AGN Wireless card.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

DarkDuck's Debian desktop
Debian Xfce

DarkDuck's Linux Mint desktop
Mint Cinnamon

DarkDuck's Mageia desktop
Mageia KDE

Interview conducted June 12, 2013


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.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here, follow me on Twitter here, and subscribe to the feed here.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Linux Setup - Tony Baldwin, Translator

Tony’s take on Linux is great because it comes from a political perspective, but also a practical one. He makes a strong effort to use free and open source software, but at the same time, he uses these free tools to earn his living. So he’s taking a stand, but he’s not compromising anything in terms of his career. It’s all the more impressive given that translating seems to rely on a lot of proprietary software. Also, Tony and I connected through Tumblr, where we follow each other. If you’re running Linux on your desktop, I hope you’ll drop me an email, hit me up here, or get me on Twitter/G+, and allow me to interview you.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here and follow me on Twitter here.

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

    I am Tony Baldwin! I work as a professional, freelance translator, translating patents, contracts, technical specifications and documentation, localizing websites, and other materials, from French, Portuguese, and Spanish to US English.

    In my industry, as so many others, proprietary software is ubiquitous, and it is pretty well assumed that translators work on Windows, using one of a few dominant CAT (Computer Aided Translation) programs, such as Trados (from SDL, the most popular and most used), Wordfast being the most common. Also, of course, the vast majority of documents are sent to me in MSOffice formats.

    I have been working in this industry for near eight years now, but I’ve been using 100% Free/Open Source Software for 13 years, so, clearly, it IS possible to work in this job without proprietary software. I have a page listing many of the tools I use here: baldwinlinguas.com/freesoftware.

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

    I currently use Debian GNU/Linux, Stable, on my main workstation, as well as on my laptop, and all my servers (I also do web development and design on the side, and hosting, and have my own webserver in my office, on which www.baldwinlinguas.com, the site for my translation business, is hosted, as well as www.tonybaldwin.me, and others). I started out using GNU/Linux back in c. 2000 with RedHat 7.0, and stuck with it until it became Fedora, and then used Fedora until FC4, at which point I left Fedora, tried Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, and a few others for while before moving to Debian, at which time Lenny was the Stable release.

    I’ve grown to really LOVE Debian. I know I can depend on it. Nothing ever breaks, allowing me to spend my time working, earning from translating stuff, rather than fixing my computer, troubleshooting and resolving errors. In four years of using Debian’s Stable releases, I haven’t had any technological interruptions of my work, period. I’ve played with or tried many distros, and many of them are pretty cool, but I just stick with Debian now. It’s reliable; the Debian project is committed to the principles of the Free Software movement, and I the Debian Way of doing things makes sense to me. Plus, it’s a great community! I got to be part of translating Raphael and Roland’s Debian Administrator’s Handbook last year, even. It feels good to be part of the community.

    Ed.note: Here is my interview with Raphael.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    The most used applications on my work computer, for my translation work, are OmegaT, a Free/Open Source CAT program, my web browser, Iceweasel, and OpenOffice.

    I must say, however, that I use the current “upstream” release of OmegaT, rather than sticking with the Debian packages, which are sometimes as much as two years behind the current OmegaT release. I do stick with Debian packages for most software, however.

    There are other programs that I use regularly, and I also have a bunch of bash scripts that I’ve slapped together that help automate some of the menial tasks in managing documents or preparing them for translation, file conversion, and even stuff like tracking financial aspects of the projects I take on.

    I also use Vim a lot, for writing my scripts, but also sometimes when cleaning up converted documents. For instance, I’ll get documents in PDF format, convert them to text with pdftotext, and then use Vim and its powerful regex fu to clean the document up (since conversions sometimes place line breaks where I don’t need them, split sentences between pages, etc.).

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    My current work computer is a 4x2.8GHz AMD APU with 16GB RAM and a 2TB HDD. I put it together from parts purchased from tigerdirect.com.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    Well, I’m pretty happy with the machine I have now! Of course, as things progress, I’ll eventually probably want more power, I suppose…the endless search for MORE POWER!!

    But, honestly, I use Debian with Openbox, keep my system lean and free from bloat, and with my current system, I have plenty of room for advancements in software without anticipating a need for more hardware.

    The other day I started playing with VirtualBox for the first time ever. I had Iceweasel open with like 12 tabs, several terminals (terminator) open, PCMan FM running, htop running in terminal, and I think the GIMP open, while at the same time running Fedora 18, CentOS and Trisquel all in VirtualBoxes, and I wasn’t using 1/3 of my RAM or half the CPU I have. This rig is pretty powerful.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    My desktop is pretty simple and clean, really, but here’s a recent shot of me hacking on a script for tracking jobs and payments:

Tony Baldwin's desktop

Interview conducted April 26, 2013


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.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here, follow me on Twitter here, and subscribe to the feed here.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Notes from Stefano Zacchiroli’s Talk to the New York Linux Users Group

Last night I went to see Debian Project Leader Stefano Zacchiroli speak to the New York Linux Users Group. The slides are available here and the video is available, so I’m not going to recap in-depth. But a few things were very interesting:
  • Stefano’s laptop crashed during the talk, which was pretty funny. He was a good sport and handled it calmly. I’m sure he was glad to be in front of a Linux-friendly crowd.
  • He said Wheezy should be ready March or April 2013. If you look at the slides from his January talk, you’ll see that was pushed from February/March 2013. Which is very Debian.
  • He divided Debian into three components: the product/operating system; the project; and the community. It was a very cool way to consider the distribution.
  • He said 78% of Ubuntu comes directly from Debian, with another 12% of Ubuntu representing patched Debian packages. The rest of Ubuntu comes directly from Ubuntu.
  • Stefano called bug reporting a moral obligation for anyone using free software. I’m going to try and be better about fulfilling that obligation.
  • Someone asked Stefano about guided Debian membership paths for non-technical people. He said it’s something Debian wants to work on. Given the rigorous structures and mentoring Debian has for technical members looking to join the project, they’re well-positioned to come up with something interesting.