30 Days of Geek #11: Favourite hacking environment – music, light, seating, etc

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

First up, music. 99% of the time I have iTunes playing a random mix of songs from my collection. Around 60% of my collection is older stuff like Pink Floyd (the best band ever), The Beatles (the second best band ever) and Eric Clapton (he’s just this guy, you know?). The rest is made up of albums from the mid-90s onwards, most of which has been heard on Triple J at some point. The other 1% of the time I’m listening to Triple J itself via an Internet stream. Normally I just listen to it in the car.

As for lighting, I prefer the evening, but I’ll work during any sensible time of the day. There’s a particular time in the morning where the sun shines directly onto my face through the window when I’m sitting at my desk. This is when I have breakfast. My day is usually spent doing interesting stuff that doesn’t involve computers. The evening is when I get my geeking done.

As for the physical environment involving desks and chairs and beds (oh my!) I have two favourite spots:

My Desk
My Desk. Humble apologies for the awful photography.

The desk is from Officeworks, and is brilliant. The chair is a moderately comfortable loan (I’ve had it almost 18 months now though) from my father.

My Bed. "Lost Ears" is sitting comfortably.

This is where the thinking happens. My fountain pen and Moleskine notebook (I’m a brand whore) sit on the desk just to the right of the picture.

30 Days of Geek #10: My primary computer.

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

Today it’s all about my computer. Currently I only have one computer, a laptop. This is unlike quite a few other geeks, and very unlike myself in the past. I’ve had 3 or 4 working computers, plus lots of spare parts. I now have 1 working computer, and a few spare parts.

So, this laptop. It’s an ASUS UL20A ultra-portable laptop. Halfway in between a netbook and a full-sized laptop, it’s just that perfect compromise between portability and usability.

My Laptop (UL20A)
My Laptop


  • Intel CPU, 1.3GHz dual-core. Surprisingly, this actually feels really snappy. It’s amazing how we’ve got used to this natural progression in computing for faster and faster, when we actually don’t need it for a lot of tasks.
  • 2GiB of DDR2 RAM. This, on the other hand, isn’t enough. As this post is being published, there’s another 2GiB in the mail, to make a new total of 4GiB.
  • 250GB SATA HDD. Plenty. My movie collection is stored on an external drive.
  • 12″ screen, 1366 x 768 pixels. It would be nice to have more (isn’t it always true?) however this much allows me to get what I need to do done. It’s also a 16×9 aspect ratio, which is very nice for watching videos.
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit. See yesterday’s post for why.
  • There are some other specifications, but I can’t remember what they are, and don’t really care.

I’ve also been told to share a screenshot of my computer. Well, here it is:

My Windows 7 laptop running PuTTY
My Windows 7 laptop running PuTTY

30 Days of Geek #9: What OS/distribution do you run?

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

My workstation runs Windows 7 Home Premium x64. The primary reason for running Windows instead of Linux is that running Windows allows me to use Outlook. Yes, Outlook is just that good. I used to do a lot of computer gaming too, which was better on Windows. Since I’ve stopped doing that (because I only have a laptop now) that’s not so much of a reason.

I run the Home Premium version of Windows simply because it came pre-installed on the laptop, and I saw no reason to upgrade. I would have upgraded to the 64-bit version had it not been pre-installed, however.

Unfortunately for all my Linux-fan friends, I don’t think Linux is the best workstation operating system for my needs. It just doesn’t fit so neatly into my mental work flow, and it gets along horribly with the other Windows machines in my house. Samba is the devil, basically.

On the other hand, I always use UNIX-based operating systems on servers. Wouldn’t dream of anything else (unless I had to create a Windows domain controller). On the servers I’ve set up, I’ve always used Debian GNU/Linux. It’s the most stable operating system I’ve ever come across, and that’s what counts. It also happens to be free software, but that’s less of a consideration for me.

The best thing about UNIX-based operating systems is not the operating system itself though, it’s the application software available for them. The best web servers all run on UNIX. Ditto for software development tools, typesetting software, text editors, command-line shells, the list goes on. Everything except for Outlook, basically. 😛

A lot of the time then, you’ll find me sitting on my Windows-based laptop, with an SSH client open connected into my server so I can take advantage of all those nice tools. Firefox, Outlook, PuTTY, Pidgin… what more could a man need?

30 Days of Geek #8: Preferred method of communication with humans

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

Naturally, I prefer to communicate with other humans in person. Every other form of communication leaves something to be desired (and usually, that something is something big).

I’m quite sure that I’m not the only person in the world who has trouble picking up on the subtle cues found in all human communications. The hints of sarcasm (or, in my case, the never-ending stream of it), the smiles, the hand movements, the stances, the tones of voice. A lot of it falls under the umbrella term of body language. Body language is just something the Internet cannot do at all. The telephone, surprisingly, does it even worse (at least in my experience). So I like talking in person the best, because it gives me the best chance to pick up on all these cues.

So, my preferences as far as communications goes:

  1. Human contact one on one or in a small group.
  2. Human contact in a large group conversation (there’s a large gap between 1 and 2).
  3. Instant Messaging (I use MSN and Facebook chat the most). Simply because I can log it.
  4. Internet Relay Chat (IRC). If you don’t know what this is, just think chatrooms.
  5. Text messages (SMS).
  6. And, right down the bottom, in a dusty box underneath the staircase, talking on the telephone.

I think the reason I hate the phone so much is because the person who gets called (usually me) has no choice about when the conversation happens. I could be in the middle of something requiring a lot of concentration (such as programming or web scripting, which requires juggling dozens of variables and logical statements in your head) and the phone rings. Concentration lost.

Of course, if I like you enough, I’ll be happy to shelve whatever I’m doing to talk to you. It’s just that this category isn’t large enough for my boss to be part of it.

30 Days of Geek #7: Preferred smartphone platform. And which do you use?

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

My preferred smartphone platform is Windows Mobile (now renamed Windows Phone to avoid the whole ‘Cell phone’ / ‘Mobile phone’ naming debacle). There are a few reasons for my choice (mostly illogical):

  • It’s an open platform. What I mean for this is that anybody can develop an application for the phone without having to prostrate themselves before Steve Jobs. Note that just because you can write an application, doesn’t mean that anybody does, which is slightly disappointing.
  • The operating system doesn’t treat you as if you’re 6. Every setting imaginable is open for the tinkering. Again, doesn’t mean you should.
  • It crashes occasionally, usually while trying to make a call. No computer would be complete without crashing or misbehaving at an inconvenient time.

My old phone was an HTC Touch Pro2, which I reviewed here. It was an awesome phone. At the time I bought it, it had the highest resolution of any mobile out there (as far as I’m aware), a QWERTY keyboard, 3G, WiFi, GPS, basically every feature under the sun. Unfortunately it cost a fair bit, and once I realised I never actually took advantage of all these features, I sold it and bought an entire high-end desktop computer. Which brings me to my current phone…

I currently use a Nokia C5. And what can I say about it? It’s a Nokia. It works, it makes calls and does text messaging, and I can check Facebook if I’m bored on the bus. And that’s what I’ve realised. A mobile phone is still, essentially, a phone. Maybe I’m getting old (I hope not), but maybe it just doesn’t matter so much any more.