The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

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Andy Bakun

Andy Bakun

UNIX systems administrator

Posted

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am a gentleman hacker, an artifex, a raconteur. People think I'm a consummate snowball artist, but really I'm either a certified genius or an authentic wacko.

I'm Andy Bakun and I keep websites running. I've been using computers almost daily since I was nine, started with a VIC-20 and then to the Commodore-64. Some days I consider myself an amateur comedy writer.

What hardware do you use?

When I'm sitting a desk, my home setup is a white box computer that I periodically piecemeal upgrade. At work I use a 13" Macbook Pro, which I find more portable than the 15" (which I used to have) for the rare occasion when it does leave the office. My primary display in both places are 30" monitors. At home, it's a Dell UltraSharp U3011, which is a fantastic monitor. I also run a Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW 24" in portrait orientation at home. The dual monitor setup is really nice because I can keep things like chat windows, IRC, email, and documentation up on the secondary while I focus on the primary.

For input, use the Logitech Performance MX wireless mouse and I own three Compaq 104-key keyboards, one each for work and home, and a spare. I love this keyboard. It's kind of old-school, but it's much more durable than a lot of more modern keyboards. It's heavier than a lot of other more modern keyboards so it's difficult to push around and the key action is quick yet solid. And when it needs to be cleaned, it goes through the dishwasher like a champ.

My home office is made up of the IKEA FREDRIK desk, and a Humanscale Freedom chair.

I also have various servers at home for file serving, archive storage, media serving, experimentation, and random projects. A nineteen inch telco rack in the garage houses these.

For looking up 80s trivia, settling bets while watching TV, and playing games against friends and family, I have a Nexus 7. I also regularly use it to attempt to manage my schedule, for on-the-go note-taking and idea capturing, and reading ebooks.

There's also an iPad and a Kindle Fire floating around the house. The latter is used by my three year old son to continuously watch garbage truck videos on loop.

And what software?

All of my machines run Linux, even my work Macbook Pro. I personally prefer Redhat/rpm-based distributions for personal stuff. We use a mix of Ubuntu and CentOS on the servers at work.

I spend 99% of my time in xterms or the browser, which is Chrome these days. I don't use any fancy terminal emulation software, not even ones that come built into desktop environments, like gnome-terminal. I find xterm to be fast and accurate and it gets the job done. I have a series of panel buttons that invoke shell scripts to open up a bunch of xterms in various layouts depending on how I want to work, which set of machines I'm working on, or if I'm monitoring status logs or debugging. Chances are, you'll see two 156x101 xterms side by side on the 30" monitor, covering most of the screen.

For terminal multiplexing on remote machines, I use tmux, often connecting to the same sessions in multiple windows. Having multiple windows showing the same set of shells and being able to switch between them independently really works well for my workflow, even if I do periodically end up showing the same thing in both of them.

Since many of the computers and files I'm working on are remote, either elsewhere in the house or elsewhere in the country, I use vim to edit files. However, for larger projects where I need to study code and browse code bases, which isn't nearly as often as I'd like these days, I warming up to Sublime Text, but old vim habits die hard.

For instant messaging, I use Psi. I'm a frequent user of Gmail and Google Docs. Dropbox keeps things in sync.

I leverage puppet pretty heavily to bulk manage the servers at work. The standard sysadmin toolbox applies here: Nagios, Ganglia, a bunch of homebrew stuff, the contents of /usr/bin, etc.

My home media server runs mediatomb, which streams videos to a Vizio Co-Star.

What would be your dream setup?

Overall, I think I have a pretty good setup currently. On the physical/hardware side, the only thing I'd change is more space and some way to enable longer stretches of quiet/focus time. My home office is kind of tight making it a challenge to keep my area from becoming cluttered. After a while it settles down into a mass of junk-mail, cables, dead electronics, and random pieces of paper.

Some day, I want to have an outside, detached office or "pod".

On the software side, my ideal setup would be a Linux distribution that is fully optimized for servers, which I think a lot of Linux distributions lack or go about it in a backwards way. Bulk manage everything, first class configuration management, reliable automation, and large environment administration. Maybe someday, I'll have a chance to work on that.