Techie stuff

For those with an interest in this sort of thing, here are details of some technical tools I like to use.

Operating system

I've predominantly used Debian GNU/Linux for the past many years, having also dabbled with various other flavours of Linux (SUSE, Ubuntu, various others) plus BSDs and Solaris. Something about Debian just seems to make sense to me and so I carry on using it and it gives me everything I need. I am currently running stretch (testing) on most machines except jessie (stable) on the web server, of course. The first Debian version I used was potato.

Likes and dislikes

I love the command line. I practically live on the command line. I don't think I am really working on a computer unless I am typing commands. Messing about with pictures is just playing.

I hate icons. I really HATE icons! When my screen has all sorts of weird pictures, half the time they are so damn small I can't even tell which one is which, and even when I can see them I can't remember what they do. My partner and my mum use Macs so I get called in sometimes for tech support. When I look at the icons, I can feel my brain having to work deliberately to tell what little picture stands for what, I can't just remember it on autopilot as I can with commands or keyboard shortcuts. Some people must love it but not me.


Like the OS I have been open to experimentation in the choice of desktop environment. I like it clean and simple. I quite liked GNUStep for a while (not sure if that is still around), and used XFCE for a long time but it isn't very pretty. I'm vaguely aware there's a long war of attrition between the big beasts like Gnome and KDE. But I just ignore all that, because I don't use any of them. From my point of view their screens are all covered on icons like W*ndows or Mac and they are too painful for me to use.

Now I have found desktop nirvana with a tiling window manager called i3. I totally recommend it. Simple config file you can edit to your own liking. Everything done with keyboard shortcuts. Virtual screens -- I use the "Windows" key, which in the ordinary run of things is mostly redundant on a Linux box, and just press Win-1 to switch to screen 1 and so on, like changing channel on a TV. I habitually run certain things on the same "channel" every time, so have a few command prompts and ssh sessions open on 1, web browser on 2, mail on 4. Then I just know where everything is and the screen stays uncluttered. I have great big views on my documents, no messing about peering in to find fiddly little handles on windows. It's great.

You can open applications with shortcuts like Alt-Enter (terminal) or Alt-B (browser - Firefox, or rather Iceweasel, because this is Debian!). I set up my own memorable shortcuts in the config file. This suits me for playing with alternatives -- I am forever changing file manager, but whichever one I currently have in use is always on Alt-I. I appear to be using PCManFM at the moment (I had to check) but most file managers make me grumpy at some point so I will probably be trying a different one before long.

When you open up a new window, it automatically tiles with whatever is already there - so two windows take up half the space side by side, although you can drag the divider between them to adjust the proportion if you want. If you want the next one to open underneath instead you can use Alt-V for vertical tiling. So for example, I split the screen in half to have two windows side by side, then press Alt-V and open another one that divides one of them vertically, so I end up with one half and two quarter screenfuls. Neat.

Web stuff

I'm making pretty simple websites these days, with lots of text. This page is just hand-woven in html. For the blog sites I am using Pelican, a static site generator, and quite liking it. For me there are minor advantages like easy theming and general simplicity, but the main benefit is keeping all the content in plain text files under version control (Mercurial). This is great for my drafting process, because I can work with content on different machines, keep drafts alongside finished and published work, and just generally know where it all is and work with it.

Before I went static I was mainly using Wordpress for the blogs, and for client sites in the past I used Drupal, Typo3 and other CMSes. Like file managers, all CMSes suck. It's probably not their fault.