Questions from usesthis.com, documenting the computing kit of interesting people. Updated December 2020
Who are you, and what do you do?
I'm Maxwell Spangler, a Computer Operations Engineer focused on Linux based computing platforms. My job involves helping developers design, deploy, monitor and maintain large applications in a data center or cloud computing environment. They write the code, I contribute to everything else.
I got started in computing around the age of eleven or twelve learning the BASIC programming language on an Atari 8-bit computer with 64k of RAM. It was the start of journey in computing involving quite a bit of self-teaching, self-support and exploration.
I fell in love with Unix systems in my early days but couldn't afford the kind of systems I wanted so I transitioned my interest into Linux in its first few years. I've worked with it since 1992 and its been my primary computing enviornment for over two decades.
In 2004 during a burn-out from computing I trained to be a SCUBA instructor with dreams of living and diving all across the world. Instead I followed a friend into a few years of building and managing a restaurant. The experience was exhausting but rewarding: I got to know myself beyond computing and it revealed strengths and talents beyond working at a computer.
I love taking photos but I hate organizing and printing them. So there's a lot of really good stuff on my servers but not seen beyond them.
What hardware do you use?The primary tool I use for productivity is a Toshiba Z40-c 14" Laptop running Fedora Linux. This is my homebase for computing and I really like it despite its age. This is a 2015 model I bought used and upgraded it to 512G of SSD storage and 16G of RAM. I use it as a portable, personal tool and for that its very good. The older CPU limits how fast I can do things and I'm starting to notice its age. However since I'm used to working with large server systems remotely, if I need to process a lot of data, I'll just use computing resources in the cloud instead.
I use a pair of Dell U2415 24" 1920x1200 monitors for my home office display. These really help me stretch out and work with many programs at the same time. The aging laptop probably won't handle a single large 4K monitor yet, so these are good for a while.
I use an Apple iPhone Xr smartphone and an Apple iPad tablet in collaboration with my laptop. Like most people, many activities that used to be on a computer have comfortably transferred to my smartphone so I'm rarely without my phone. If I need more screen space, I use the iPad intead as just the right amount of computing: bigger viewing than a phone, but more friendly and smaller than even a laptop.
My home features three HP Data Vault/MediaSmart Server NAS units from 2010. These have been upgraded to faster CPUs so they're still very useable and they run CentOS Linux so they feel just like any server I'd use for work.
I occasionally use a home lab for experimentation with Linux based programs. This lab is simply four laptops in a cluster running virtual machines. A fifth does the same and provides all my core network services. This isn't a lot of computing power individually, but the sum of its CPU, memory and storage resources rivals a small home server. In the future I will replace this with a single or pair or AMD Ryzen based small form factor PCs but right now I don't have the need to spend $1500 on something I don't often use.
I have several network switches linking all this up and I'm delighted that my apartment has ethernet jacks cabled into the walls. This all works its way back to a pair of Netgear routers acting as firewalls and a Centurylink gigabit fiber internet connection. The teenager using a 9600 bps modem that I was long ago never thought I'd have *gigabit* internet to my home.
And what software?
I've been using Linux in various forms, mostly Red Hat based since approximately 1992. These days I still use Fedora Linux with minimalist Gnome 3 GUI on my laptops although I'm wondering when I'll join others and switch to the more user-friendly MacOS instead. I use CentOS on servers and Proxmox as a hypervisor in my home lab.
When I write code I switch between vim which is natural to me after so many years of use and Atom which feels modern and friendly. I've switched back to Firefox for my browser after years of using Chrome because I'm retreating from so much tracking by other companies. Within Firefox I use Confluence Cloud as a wiki to generate documentation and study notes. I absolutely love creating beautiful diagrams using draw.io.I use KeePassX to store passwords. Evolition for email. The fact that I don't have some killer app on my laptop like Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, or some amazing game makes me refer to my laptop as a SuperTerminal mostly used for SSH sesisons with some other things, too. Phone and Tablet Apps I use Downcast for podcasting, TuneIn for audio streaming, the KCRW app for streaming Eclectic24, my favorite radio station. I TuneIn to stream Colorado Public Radio for news and KCRW's Eclectic24 for music. Both are commercial free and worth my monthly donations. I chat on Slack and meet with Zoom. I read high quality news via iOS apps via The Washington Post and The New York Times. Both worth the subscription price.
When I bought my first iPad I thought my days of reading paper books were over, but since then I've accumulated over five hundred in my librarly. I do read on my table using PDF Expert and have a library of several gigabytes of PDF based books.
I use Pocket to stash articles for later reading. Mostly it makes me feel good to think I'll actually read an article later, but I mostly don't.
What would be your dream setup?I would evolve my current setup to build on what already works for me. I would move to a 13" or 16" Apple Silicon based Macbook Pro. After using Linux for nearly two decades I'm missing out on the beautiful visual display MacOS offers, the integration with iOS smartphones and tablets and iCloud services. My Linux laptop is a SuperTerminal for me, but I'd like to see what life is like with high quality commercial apps missing from Linux. I'd replace my two HD Dell monitors with a single 4K or higher resolution monitor. I'm convinced that two displays is nice for productivity but it comes at a cost of ergonomics. A single, centered display is healthier and more natural. I've mostly replaced my Nikon DSLR camera with my iPhone. I'd love an iPhone with an even better camera, or one that allows external lenses to be attached. The ability to pull a camera out of my pocket and capture daily life in incredibly high quality photos without much post processing has been a delight. Archived 2013 version of my usesthis profile