Egg Freckles
Notes from my Newton

Sat Jun/2 Setup

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?

I stopped using a Macintosh sometime in 2015, returned my work 11-inch MacBook Air, sold my overclocked Hackintosh, and started building my own PCs running Fedora and Windows 10. I keep each PC for a couple of months and then sell it off to build something new. Building a PC is about as difficult as putting together a box a Lego. Researching, buying, and assembling my own computers keeps me interested in technology.

I use low-cost netbooks for travel. Cheap enough I don’t have to worry about losing them. Powerful enough to run a web browser and a text editor. I would love to try an iPad as my travel computer, but I am hopelessly addicted to the command line, keyboard, 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 costs a fraction of the price. I appreciate its small size, sturdy construction, and removable USB cord.

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. My Apple watch’s real time pace display has changed the way I run marathons. I could easily switch to another mobile phone and smart watch platform, but I have a finite number of marathons left in my life. Why run with a lesser product? 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 as beautiful as OS X’s Aqua, but I often find myself staring at a terminal.

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 Fever°, and HTML in SeaMonkey. 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.