Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Linux Setup - Jesús García-García, Lecturer, University of Oviedo

One of the more common things I hear about this project is that it skews toward technical users. I appreciate Jesús’ interview because he makes a point of mentioning how Linux works for all sorts of technical skill sets, from the advanced, to the more basic. I also appreciate the chance to interview another academic Linux user, as Linux has some fantastic tools, many of which Jesús mentions, that make academic work much easier. And if you’re a non-technical user who wants to share your setup, please drop me a line or email me at steven via this domain.

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 Jesús García-García. I’m a lecturer in Accountancy at University of Oviedo (Spain). My main research interests are focused on open data and transparency, open government and free/libre open source software; their value and the role they play on business, governments and society. With free software, I have put the focus on its value in financial reporting and how it’s related to social responsibility disclosure, which I believe would be helpful for raising funds in socially responsible investment markets.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    There are several reasons. First, the sense of freedom: computing should not be dominated by any big contender in a market who is powerful enough to impose standards or technologies (do you remember ‘Wintel’ dominance or the browser wars in the late 1990s and 2000s?). There is also the sense that by using free software you are part of a great community that makes the world a better place; you are taking part in a global commitment to help eliminate the digital divide, create economic opportunity, and foster equal access to technology even though you are just a non-technical user without programming skills leading by example among your inner circle (family, friends, workmates…). Last, but not least, it just works! So, why shouldn’t I use it?

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

    Ubuntu, 12.04 LTS and 13.10. I proudly survive in a Windows-centric computing universe at University :-) But I began using Linux a long time ago.

    It was 1997 and I tried Slackware on a 486 running MS-DOS and Windows 95. I wasn’t able to start a graphic environment (the old fvwm), but the experience actually opened my mind to alternative operating systems. I carried on and a few months later I get a copy of RedHat 5.0. “A complete computing environment in one box,” was the slogan on the box, which I still have. It was really true; all of your software could be installed at the same time without hassle (no looking for extra software, CDs, FTPs, etc). It was also not that complicated to install and manage, at least not as complicated as Slackware was! In the following years I used SuSE and Mandrake/Mandriva. I have always chosen user-friendly distros because I firmly believe free software should be for everybody and not just for technically oriented users.

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

    Unity when running Ubuntu, GNOME 2 previously. I don’t really care about my desktop environment, but I do prefer simple environments. GNOME 2 was my choice for many years, but nowadays I find Unity quite interesting. It’s easy and it just works. Computing should be a simple matter. I find KDE 4 and GNOME 3 quite complex, maybe even overbloated. Xfce and other lightweight desktops lack some basic management features.

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

    I have no special dependency with Ubuntu or any other distribution (maybe the desktop environment, Unity). My workflow is quite simple and can be replicated on any other distribution, even on Windows or Mac, at least while there is Firefox. Firefox is my preferred browser. I love the work Mozilla Foundation has done for the last decade in the defense of the open web and I consider it my most important piece of software.

    I rely on LibreOffice and Zotero for writing academic papers, creating slides and managing bibliographies, but also LaTeX and Beamer if required by mathematical content. I use Calc and SQLite to deal with databases. R and Rcommander to create statistical graphs and calculations. I use Pinboard to read content later or archive bookmarks and notes, NewsBlur to follow RSS sources (if a website doesn’t offer a RSS source, it isn’t worth my time), Dropbox to save, share and sync my files (does anyone remember those old-fashioned USB drives?), and Google Docs for collaborative writing. I’d prefer to use Etherpad but it’s not widely known. I use CrossOver in order to be able to open .docx or .pptx MS Office files if layout is important.

    As you can see, all of my computing could be done on any platform (Linux, Mac, Windows). I am truly committed to using free software, even with web apps, but if I cannot and have to use privative software or web apps I demand an open data feature: I should be able to get my data out in an open, interoperable and portable format.

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

    I don’t need cutting-edge hardware. I use a Macbook i5 with 4GB RAM and 16:10 screen (13”), which also runs Snow Leopard and a Pentium IV 3Ghz with 1GB RAM desktop and 4:3 screen (17”). I’m dreaming of Ubuntu Touch or even Firefox OS tablets to run my workflow in the future :-)

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    For sure, but it’s nothing exciting: a boring stock Ubuntu desktop.

Jesús García-García's desktop

Interview conducted December 8, 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.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Linux Setup - Charlie Reisinger, Penn Manor IT Director

As Charlie mentions, he’s part of the team giving laptops to an entire high school. That’s an awesome project, but Charlie’s enthusiasm for Linux is also pretty great. When I interviewed Niki Kovacs, I was taken by his joy for Linux. I get a very similar vibe from Charlie. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a fellow Clementine fan. I also continue to be impressed by the number of people who say they like Unity. I’m almost at the point where I think it’s time to give it another look.

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’m Charlie Reisinger (@charlie3 on Twitter), the IT Director for Penn Manor School District, a public K-12 school system in beautiful Lancaster County Pennsylvania. As a member of the district leadership team, I manage IT operations as well as educational technology programs and initiatives. I’m incredibly fortunate to work with a team who embraces an open source philosophy. For the past decade, our school infrastructure has been powered by open source software. Over the past three years, we have been increasing the number of student laptops running Linux. This winter, we are initiating a 1:1 high school student laptop program running Linux and open source software exclusively.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    For me, it is a joyful, playful platform. Linux offers a stellar learning laboratory for students of all ages. For schools, Linux and open source software provides tremendous cost savings. I also deeply value the freedoms inherent in open source. Linux is a flagship example of the power of collaboration and a testament to human ingenuity and creativity. As corporations and governments accelerate efforts to erode privacy and ownership, Linux and open source software offers our best hope for techological freedom, innovation and egality.

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

    My main distribution is Ubuntu. I’ve played with other distributions in the past, but I always find myself back with Ubuntu. I’m currently running 13.10 and love it.

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

    Unity is where I spend my time. Earlier versions were certainly a first draft, but with each release cycle, Canonical continues to iterate and polish the interface. I really enjoy the clean user experience and unique design.

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

    Tough question. Like most people, I spend a great deal of time living in web browsers. However, I do a great deal of writing, spreadsheet work and presenting, so my main application is LibreOffice. LibreOffice is a wonderful productivity tool. Recently, I’ve been leading trainings on screencasting, so Kazam and Shutter are near the top of the list as well. At home, I simply can not live without Clementine and Stellarium!

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

    My work laptop is a Toshiba Portege Z835. It is super light and portable with a nice keyboard. My home laptop is a trusty ThinkPad T61p.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Here is my current desktop.

Charlie Reisinger's desktop

Interview conducted January 19, 2014


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.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Linux Setup - Tynan, SETT Developer

I found Tynan through this article about San Francisco entrepreneurs living in mobile homes to save money in a very expensive housing market. I noticed Ubuntu in one of the photos and reached out to Tynan. Tynan’s setup is simple but effective. He’s looking for an operating system that stays out of his way, and Ubuntu seems to do that for him. He also mentions Synapse, which is an interesting coincidence, since it comes up quite a bit in the comments to this post on Kupfer, another application launcher. Having spent a little bit of time playing with Synapse, I also agree that it’s a neat tool.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

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

screenshot of San Francisco Gate article featuring Tynan's Ubuntu desktop

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

    My name is Tynan. I’m the founder of a startup called SETT, which builds an awesome blogging platform that gets bloggers more views, more comments, and more subscribers. I also blog at Tynan.com, which is hosted on SETT.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I love the idea of Linux — the full control, the transparency, and the infinite customization. At the same time, Windows has been stagnating or getting worse, and I don’t like Apple hardware. Having a great operating system coupled with unlimited choice in hardware is perfect for me.

    Also, as a developer it’s nice to run a similar OS to my production environment.

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

    I run Ubuntu 13.04.

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

    I just use the default Unity interface. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t do anything egregiously bad like Windows does. I don’t like the launcher (I rely on Synapse instead), but I love the top bar with the unified messaging/audio/etc. The indicators on the sidebar are great, too.

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

    Synapse is really great. So is Guake. But really the strength of Linux these days is that ALL of the apps are pretty good. I like LibreOffice better than MS Office, and most of my other apps, like Thunderbird and Chrome, are equally good on any OS.

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

    I have a Asus UX21A. It’s an 11.6” Ultrabook with 1920x1080 resolution.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    It’s just the stock Ubuntu desktop. No icons and barely anything in the sidebar.

Tynan's desktop

Interview conducted September 5, 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.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Writing a Book with Linux

cover of The Librarian's Guide to Academic Research in the Cloud

I spent the past year writing The Librarian’s Guide to Academic Research in the Cloud, a book which focuses on using and thinking about cloud services in an academic research context. I’m fortunate enough to belong to a union that negotiated research leave for new faculty, and that leave made the book possible.

The content of the book might be interesting to Linux users (here is an excerpt), but I wanted to talk about the process for writing the book, which was very Linux-intensive.

Before starting the book, I had heard a lot of horror stories about people forced to use crazy Word stylesheets and templates from publishers. I was very glad that my publisher didn’t use anything like that, which might have forced me to spend more time in Windows. I decided to work with RTF files and used LibreOffice to write the whole thing.

Working with LibreOffice as much as I did was an interesting process. At work, I use Word for word processing and at home I use gedit until I absolutely need to format something. So I hadn’t spent very much time with LibreOffice. It was fine, but there were some rough edges that made it feel a few iterations behind Word. For instance, I wasn’t able to get a running word count going, even though there’s supposed to be an extension to do that. Fonts seemed to change between opening and closing a file. And one file kept getting wiped because I had an HTML link at the start of the file. Nothing cataclysmic happened, but using LibreOffice was not as smooth as using Word. Word is crazy and convoluted, but for the most part, it’s stable and stays out of your way. LibreOffice occasionally acted up and while nothing completely wrecked my project, I don’t find myself suddenly writing in it now that I no longer need to.

screenshot of text in LibreOffice

Despite some of its limitations, one LibreOffice feature I love is the ability to generate a PDF of a document in one click. I had to deal with permissions, so I just created a permission template that let me easily turn permissions forms into PDFs, which I then emailed out. This was much easier in LibreOffice than it would have been in Word, where I would have needed to convert the files to PDFs using Save As, or that weird Adobe button that takes forever to export the PDF. The Gmail canned message option (available in Labs) was also very helpful when it came time to send out the permissions. The whole permissions process required very little typing, which is always nice.

I’ve recently heard good things about XMLmind, which is used, among other things, to generate DocBook. It’s something I want to further explore for long-form writing. And I’m also curious to see if pandoc, recently mentioned by Bryan Behrenshausen, might be a good option for me.

In terms of images, I did as much as I could with GIMP and the default GNOME Screenshot tool and that was super simple. I know some people hate GIMP, but once you get used to it (and it took me quite a while to get used to it), it’s powerful and effective. I don’t know if I’ll ever find it easy to use, but it can be conquered.

I was terrified of losing work, so I used SpiderOak as my main backup tool, but then also manually uploaded files into Dropbox every time they were updated. One of the things I like about SpiderOak is that it can be configured to run on demand, only backing up files when I ask it to. That keeps my machine running pretty quickly, where I find the Dropbox client often slows things down. Uploading files into the web interface was painless, though.

I tried to focus the book on cross-platform tools as much as I could, but the reality is that there’s an awful lot of stuff that doesn’t run on Linux. For those situations, I had a virtual machine running XP (via VirtualBox) and it proved to be a life-saver in terms of testing Windows-only tools. It also turned out to be very helpful for installing software I knew I didn’t want on my Linux install. Rather than installing and uninstalling and then cleaning up files, I used the XP image as my sandbox. Toward the end of my book, I had an RTF file (my index) LibreOffice couldn’t open and WordPad on the XP partition saved my bacon, allowing me to open the document and copy-and-paste the text into something LibreOffice could edit. Even with the book completed, the XP partition has come in handy a few times. It’s a nice little safety net for those very rare times there’s something that can only be done in Windows (or when I want to quickly check something on a second machine).

My organizational system wasn’t super cohesive, but it worked for me. I used a combination of SimpleNote and Google Docs/Drive. SimpleNote was used for general notes to myself about what needed to be changed, added, or removed from each chapter (the challenge of writing a print book about web tools is that everything is constantly shifting on you). Google Docs was used for tracking the book’s glossary, plus a spreadsheet of what was going on in each chapter, in terms of the pronoun used (I alternated between he and she), the word count, and any notes that weren’t in SimpleNote. I’m now pretty into Evernote (more on that in a future post), so any future projects will probably be tracked entirely in there, but this system worked very well for me. Having said that, I would love to see Evernote have some kind of native table feature in its web interface because I like seeing information in grids. Especially since I recently discovered Evernote’s table-formatting button.

Once the book was typeset, proofing was handled via the annotation tools within Adobe Reader. I wound up having to install the Linux version of Reader (I had no idea such a thing even existed), and while it didn’t render as well as it does on Windows, I was able to successfully input my changes without any drama. I did double-check the file on a Windows machine to make sure everything made it in, though.

Writing a more complex, long-form work using desktop Linux was remarkably simple. The tools all worked, plus I didn’t have to deal with crashes or lags. One of the central points of my book is that web-based tools free us up in terms of the operating system we can work with. OpenSUSE 12.1 and GNOME 3 made for a fantastic work environment. Linux is great for checking email and Facebook, but it’s also great for serious knowledge work, too. Anyone on the fence about a long-form project in Linux should give it a shot. I’d be shocked if they left disappointed.

The Librarian’s Guide to Academic Research in the Cloud is available from Chandos Publishing. It is also available as an e-book on Chandos Publishing Online.

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


Wednesday, August 21, 2013