I love kit (hardware and software) setup posts and seeing what else people are using, and documenting the hardware and software I’ve used. It’s why I love usesthis.com interviews and why I used to love “setup” post threads on forums before that. I can’t entirely believe that even though I’ve been a reader of uses this for years, I didn’t think until now, until I was reading the about section and it mentioned just doing writing one yourself and plopping it on /uses/ that I could and should do that. So here is my uses this self interview, possibly a new periodic tradition?

Who are you, and what do you do?

This being my blog may be a bit redundant so lets speed run it.

I’m Dan Ballard, a Tor Browser dev, and cofounder of the non-profit Open Privacy Research Society and sometimes cwtch.im dev. I’d describe myself as a decentralization and privacy dev.

For work I am mostly writing code in C/C++, Javascript, and Kotlin. Outside of that I also have and continue to write some Go and Dart/Flutter code and am working on improving my Rust and writing more Rust code.

What hardware do you use?

My main development machine is a custom order desktop, a 20 core 12th gen i7 with 64GB ram and currently 4TB NVME harddrives, and a 12GB Nvidia 3060. It’s a beast and a treat. My previous main dev machine and laptop is an MSi Prestige 14” quad core 11th gen i7 with 16GB ram and a 1TB NVME drive. 16 GB is sadly no longer enough RAM to do work like I am, ideally needing a few IDEs open with codebases like Firefox and its android wrapper Fenix, which are no slouches. I also have a Mac Mini M1 for some MacOS porting and testing work, and a 6 core 9th gen i5 Windows machine also for porting and testing work, and previously for gaming. Finally I also have a Raspberry Pi 4 b quad core Arch64 with 8GB ram also for porting and testing on Arch64.

I have modest peripherals, starting with 2 27” mismatched monitors. I use a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard, a line of keyboards I’ve been using for a decade now, and I think it’s perhaps contributed to fending off carpel tunnel a little, and definitely in the early days helped force improve my touch typing. These are accompanied by a Logitech Gsomething gaming USB mouse, Creative Pebble speakers, and JBL bluetooth headphones. Bolting most of this together on my desk is a great Teetek 4 computer USB/HDMI KVM switch so I can easily switch between the desktop, laptop, Windows and Mac. Also I have a few USB drives and a PS4 gaming controler littering my desk, as well as a few spare android phones for testing.

Rounding everything out is my Seagate 5TB RAID1 NAS for storing media (full and needing an upgrade), my Pixel 6 phone and a banged up Kobo AuraHD ereader that is probably nearly a decade old.

And what software?

My main desktop is currently not the most flashiest, but after a trial with something flashy that didn’t work out (badly) I opted for stability, so I could just work. I run Debian stable Bookwork, realizing I’ve long ago gotten off the need, train, and capacity for either rolling releases or 6 monthly updates, having previously been on Ubuntu LTSs for a decade. Things not sporadically breaking is of much more value to me, and so much more software has become habituated to yearly or two yearly release cycles anyways so it not the problem it felt like it was to me over 10 years ago. On top of that I’m running XFCE4 with the nu XFCE violet WM theme and Sweet Dark GTK theme and BeautyLine icon set. My laptop is still running Ubuntu 22.04 with Gnome Shell, using default themes, with a splash of purple. I did add the Gnome Shell extensions that reimplement most of the best parts of Compiz: Compiz [wobbly] window effects, Burn My Windows and Desktop Cube.

For web browsing I use Firefox and Tor Browser, Firefox with the Dark Neon Gradient theme. All of my coding is done in JetBrains IDEs, and I use the Coderpillr theme. For communication I use Signal, HexChat, Whatsapp, Cwtch, Slack and Discord. Also Big Blue Button for some work related audio/video chats. For notes, I use Joplin synced across selfhosted Nextcloud (desktop, laptop, phone). I also use Gnome Terminal and theme it with Gogh using Neon Night. I use the fish shell with a standard prompt that shows git branch info when available. Obviously I am an avid git user, and still trot out vim when I’m in a hurry to edit something, especially if it’s not open in an IDE. I use GEdit for some writing as well and am just starting to switch to Mousepad.

A few more web apps I use include NewsBlur RSS reader to read some news still. I also still haven’t replaced Google Calendar for managing my personal, work and shared calendars. I hate that. Lately most of the Music I listen to is in the form of 1-2 hour mixes on YouTube. I use both Gitea and GitLab instances for most of my collaborative coding work, only falling back to github where required.

I am a happy Steam user for games, as their decade long journey to diversify their platform offering and recent success with the Steam Deck means that they have utterly shockingly good Linux support for games nearly out of the box. One merely has to go to a game’s properties and select a Proton version from Compatibility and pretty much my entire library runs on Linux. Elden Ring, Rollerdrome, Apex Legends, Path of Exile, everything. It’s amazing, and hence why my Windows computer is getting substantially less use.

What would be your dream setup?

For OS/UI, something stable but with the flash of old Compiz, I deeply miss wobbly windows, ridiculous window effects and the desktop cube.

On top of that, I hate the fragmentation of news and gossip and chat with folks. That I have multiple emails, an RSS feed reader, half a dozen chat apps, a few social media accounts, and still am not covering everything if frustrating and also just unpleasant user experience. I’d like something that could sit on top of all that, organize and sort things by some possibly magic importance algorithm, and possibly follow up on things for me too. That we’ve regressed so badly even from the days of trillium is perhaps unsurprising, but very disappointing. But companies learned and are locking up our user data more and more while also collecting more. Gross and terrible.

Besides that, I’d love the power of my desktop in a laptop form. Hell, in phone form, like a few prototype future portable devices that you just plug into peripherals and can do all your work. I also need well over double the storage space for my NAS, I have a lot of media currently filling it, and just doubling it could easily be negated by “upgrading” a lot of the older media from SD to 1080p. I need so much more storage. It goes without saying cloud storage solutions are a non starter for me. Thankfully I can usually make it accessible to myself remotely with SSH tunnels, ssh being a real swissarmy knife, networking wise. But it would be nice if some of that was more seamless.

Finally, and partly to solve all the above, I’d like pretty much all the software I use using centralized services to become decentralized and open. Control over one’s data, not having it siloed away, better tools for filtering, and so much more could become available if we weren’t held hostage by capitalist data hungry companies.

I guess in conclusion, the destruction of capitalism would really help my dream setup.