Questions from usesthis.com, documenting the computing kit of interesting people.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I'm Maxwell Spangler, a Systems Engineer focused on Linux and Open Source based systems.
When I was twelve I received a book on BASIC programming instead of a video game manual and discovered I could write code pretty well. This was a rare skill for a kid back then and I decided to make a career out of it.
I've spent most of my career working with Unix and Linux systems, programming database applications to make people more productive and companies successful.
I study Cloud Computing and Big Data technologies. Both are exciting and relatively new, yet building on the foundations of what I've worked with in the past.
I am also a prolific photographer, past restaurant manager and SCUBA instructor. I will always be eager to go on my next roadtrip for another adventure.
What hardware do you use?
I have an iPhone 5, an iPad Air, a laptop, and eight servers that make up my home lab.
The iPhone 5 and iPad Air allow me to get a lot done without being in front of a laptop or desktop. They let me step away from my role as an administrator and be a user which makes my experience with them even sweeter.
My laptop is an old Compaq 8510w whose sole purpose is to provide me with a mobile Linux workstation. It's slow, loud, and overheats, but it has a high resolution Apple retina-like display and a very comfortable keyboard. If I had to, I might replace it with a MacBook Pro just like everyone else.
My primary workstation is a four-core, AMD Phenom II CPU based HP desktop that I bought in 2010. The two monitors connected to it provide me with my most important requirement: a large desktop workspace. This system runs comfortably and I don't do anything that requires a faster CPU, so I'm upgrading it piece by piece to keep it satisfying.
Three older, four-core minitower servers are used to work on projects with Linux and virtualization. Four small NAS-sized servers act as a primary and auxillary file servers, an internet gateway, and a central network services server.
And what software?
My iPhone is always near me so I place apps on it that can be easily available wherever I am.
MyFitnessPal is a calorie counting app that makes monitoring what I eat easy and fun. Eating healthy is now a game and MyFitnessPal keeps score. I'm winning.
Downcast is my favorite podcasting app. I subscribe to about two dozen podcasts and listen to them whenever I'm driving, walking or biking. It lets me configure podcasts on an individual basis, auto syncs for the latest episodes whenever I go near my home Wifi and has good playback controls.
Tunein streams internet audio with some cool recording and timeshifting features. I mostly listen to NPR News & Talk via Colorado Public Radio or KCRW's Eclectic24 for music. Both are commercial free and have helped me learn to love life without advertisements.
I use Waze when I drive to contribue to crowd-sourced traffic monitoring. I'm part of a community that reports traffic jams, police radar traps, and road hazards. It's fun and feels like good karma.
My iPad Air's mission is to keep me away from my desktop computer and encourage me to read more. I've really fallen in love with it using these apps:
PDF Expert is how I read books these days. It's killer feature is the ability to sync a collection of PDF files organized into individual folders on my server. I drag 'n drop books in and out of my collection on the server then tap 'Sync' in PDF Expert on the iPad and everything's matched up. My collection of books is large so this is important.
I use Pocket to keep track of interesting articles on websites and read them on my iPad. A firefox plugin requires one click on a Pocket icon to add an article to my queue. Later I use the Pocket iPad app to read the article without the nose and distraction of the article's full web page.
While I love my iOS devices, a desktop workstation with Linux is my homebase and a big part of my computing life. Without realizing it fully, I've been transitioning activities from the desktop to the phone, tablet and websites. My Linux system is less exciting but remains where I'm productive using powerful tools.
I use Fedora Linux for my workstation and laptop, Red Hat and CentOS for my servers. I use Firefox as my primary browser and Evolution as my mail client. I spend a lot of time in bash using vim as my code editor.
The Gnome3 user environment on Fedora is a big reason why I still enjoy using Linux while so many other people switching to Macs. I have yet to work with a user interface that so cleanly lets me go from thought to action so easily as Gnome3.
I run other Linux systems in virtual machines using KVM and I run Windows 7 in VirtualBox. I need Windows 7 for iTunes. I've been using Visio for over a decade but I'm starting to think I'll be moving to Omnigraffle on Mac OS.
I have a large collection of MP3 music files and use Easytag to clean up their mp3 tags. This kind of power-user oriented app is what keeps me happy on Linux.
What would be your dream setup?
I haven't had my iPad for too long, but I'm starting to think it's a dream. Such beautiful text, gorgeous pictures, the most natural user interface in the world. It's small and light and always with me like a puppy following me around just wanting to make me smile.
But when I want to work I need a workstation and power.
My dream workstation setup would start with two large high-resolution monitors with very dense pixels and glossy, colorful displays. I want text that looks like ink and pictures that look real.
I would buy an Apple Mac Pro -- the 2013 'Round' model. It's capable of doing anything I'd want a workstation to do and it would look stunning doing it. I've got enough boring boxes, I want something sexy.
I'd build a wooden desk out of salvaged wood and aged metal and place my monitors and computer on it, sit back in a comfortable chair and get lost writing code.
Pairing technology with traditional, timeless materials is important. It reminds us techies that there are things that last and that endure.