Egg Freckles
Notes from my Newton


The following interview was inspired by The Setup, a collection of nerdy interviews, asking people from all walks of life about the hardware and software they use.

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Thomas Brand. I dropped out of art school to spend time behind the Genius Bar. Today I work at MIT. When I am not writing about technology, I am running up hills for fun.

What hardware do you use?

In 2014 I switched from Apple hardware and Mac OS to building my own PCs running GNU/Linux. I keep each PC for a couple of months and then sell it off to build something new. Researching, buying, and assembling my own computers keeps me interested in technology.

I use low-cost netbooks for travel. Right now my netbook is a “Tango” red Dell Inspiron 11 3162 I bought for $128 from Best Buy. Cheap enough I don’t have to worry about losing it. Powerful enough to run a terminal, web browser, and text editor. I would love to try an iPad as my travel computer, but I am hopelessly addicted to the keyboard, command line, and filesystem.

I traded in my Apple Extended Keyboard for a Das Keyboard Ultimate S in 2012. Its blank keys and Cherry MX Blue mechanical switches have made me a better typist. Today I am also using a Qisan Magicforce with knock-off Cherry MX Blue mechanical switches. The Magicforce is not as nice as the Das, but it cost a fraction of the price.

I have a iPhone SE in my pocket. I am not married to the iOS ecosystem, but for $399 the iPhone SE is a reliable pocket computer for anyone who doesn’t need the latest features.

I wear a Apple Watch Series 2 on my wrist when I am running, and a Omega Seamaster 2531.80 Chronometer when I am not. My Apple Watch has changed the way I train for marathons, but my Omega Seamaster makes me feel like James Bond. Both my phone and my watch benefit from T-Mobile’s $30 a month unlimited data plan.

My collection of Newton MessagePads don’t get much use these days. Too bulky to keep in my pocket, hopelessly disconnected from the modern world. Still they make a great portable longhand writing environment if you are into that sort of thing.

And what software?

Apple doesn’t prioritize the Mac the same way they once did. I switched to Fedora after Mac OS X Mavericks and never looked back. Fedora’s Gnome 3 GUI is just as beautiful as OS X’s Aqua.

Everything I write, I write in Vim; email, code, and prose. Through the power of MOSH and a hosted server I can take my writing environment with me everywhere I go. Vim’s persistent undo feature is my poor man’s version control system.

I read email in Alpine, RSS in FeverĀ°, and HTML in Firefox. Everything else I send to Instapaper.

What would be your dream setup?

I started my career in graphic design because I wanted to use a Mac. Today I value the freedom to choose my own computer. Choice is what keeps me interested in technology.