Criteria for a computing setup

“My setup” articles have become common. These articles list the hardware and software someone uses, usually with little explanation. The subtext is often the author’s commitment to the Apple brand or to open source, to spending money on the best stuff or to avoid spending money on principle. I don’t find such articles interesting or useful.

Vivek Haldar has written a different kind of  “my setup” article, one that emphasizes the problems he set out to solve and the reasons for the solutions he chose. Here are a couple excerpts describing his goals for preserving his data and his health.

Try to remember the oldest digital artifact that you can still retrieve, and more importantly, decode and view. Can you? How old is it? That should give you some idea of how hard and full of unknowns the problem of long-term preservation is. …

If a significant fraction of your working life is spent working with computers, and you do not yet have even the mildest RSI, you should consider yourself extremely lucky, but not immune. Act like you do have RSI, and change your set up right now to avoid it.

I thought the best part of the article was the criteria, not the solutions. It’s not that I disapprove of his choices, but I appreciate more his explanation of the rationale behind his choices. I don’t expect anybody is going to read the article and say “That’s it! I’m going to copy that setup.” I gather that in at least one detail, his choice of version control system, Vivek wouldn’t even copy his own setup if he were to start over. But people will get ideas to consider in their own circumstances.

Related post: Ford-Chevy arguments in tech

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8 comments on “Criteria for a computing setup
  1. Canageek says:

    Errrrgggg. I’ve had RSI. AVOID IT. It hurts like hell, and took almost a year to heal fully.

    I got it from turning up the mouse sensitivity and having too much weight in a Logitech mouse. I now use the mouse with no weights in it, and things are much better.
    Also: If you feel a burning sensation in your wrist STOP USING IT FOR A FEW DAYS. Use your left hand if you have to. Even if it feels better it will come back if you don’t rest it.

  2. Chris B says:

    I will third the RSI thing. I’ve got 2 appointments today related to it. Fun stuff.

  3. Clint says:

    I like his thin client approach. I’ve been doing just that for some time with great results. Also a hear hear for the Magic Trackpad. That, plus software that lets you program your own gestures and chords will truly change the way you work.

  4. “Act like you do have RSI, and change your set up right now to avoid it.”

    Does that mean giving up emacs for vi? Say it ain’t so!

  5. John says:

    Eiki: No, Vivek uses Emacs.

  6. Paul Rubin says:

    I’ve had mild RSI in my right (mouse) hand off and on, even after switching to a trackball years ago and adding a wrist rest. I’ve now got both a mouse and a trackball on my home machine, and I find that occasionally switching from one to the other helps a bit.

  7. Tavis Rudd says:

    RSI is a brutally serious issue that many programmers don’t pay enough attention to. Contrary to what Vivek writes, dictation does work very well for programming and fine text surgery. It just doesn’t out of the box. Two years ago I developed RSI so severe my fingers went numb after a few minutes of typing, despite having a very ergonomic setup. No matter how good your setup is, if you type enough you’ll probably develop RSI. Switching 100% to dictating allowed me to heal and after several months of tweaking I managed to create a system that was faster than typing for most of my programming / sysadmin.

  8. patfla says:

    Here’s an unexpected discovery from ‘my latest setup.’

    Hadn’t built a new home computer in some time. I have one I built in 2004 that’s still running that the wife and son use and I have a core i7 laptop that I use that I bought in Jan. of 2010.

    Just built a new desktop computer with Sandybridge 2600K, appropriate mobo, 8 GB of memory etc.

    We have Comcast. Their standard package, which we had for many years, is 12-15 Mbps down and the corresponding, lower speed up. I upgraded for not much money to Turbo or Boost or something to that effect that was supposed to give me 18-22-25 or whatever down. It involved upgrading an old cable modem to DOCSIS 3.0. OK.

    As regards DOCSIS 3.0, just discovered this which is kind of funny – in a way:

    So anyway back to speeds. I wire up my new machine and hardwire it to a 100 Mbps port (the fastest I have) on our home router.

    I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now and it consistently gives me in the range of 35 Mbps (!). Well above what I bought but wasn’t seeing with either of my two prior machines.

    I’ve realized also that continuing to rely on an old a/b/g wireless router is probably a mistake for my laptop since I bought it in Jan of 2010 (as I said) by which time I think 802.11n was fully standardized and if I upgrade to a wireless router with n (and gigabit ethernet ports) I’ll probably see a considerable speed difference.

    So I had a number of specific reasons for buying and building the new machine – none of which I’ve gone into however, above, I mention maybe 3 new, unexpected things I’ve learned.

    One of the first thing I put on the new machine was R and one of the first thing I graphed was this:

    The household debt ratio would seem an interesting thing to study in light of the economy we’ve had for the last several years. The tabular data though travels in a fairly small range. Graphing (easily done in R) brought out the data more clearly.

    Which answered several questions but raised even more new ones. For example, this is income – correct? As we all know the percentage of income that goes to the top 1% is huge. So what if, somehow, I could strip the top 1% out of the Fed numbers? I bet the DSR would go up – but would it be more volatile as well (my guess is yes)?

    I’m probably avoiding RSI at my own peril. I’m in my 50s and have been programming a long time, moreover I’m famous among colleagues past and present for pounding on the keyboard pretty hard (meaning, some of them have objected to the noise). Yet no RSI. I’ve played guitar even longer; have large hands; and they became very strong in the process of playing guitar for many years (decades). I wonder if that has helped.

    Solving some arcane programming problem is great. But as we introduce computing more into our ‘everyday lives’ – that has its own fascination and rewards – that can be quite different.

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