Friday, June 8, 2007

Alex Martelli

Alex Martelli is the author of Python in a Nutshell, the comprehensive guide to the Python language, and an uber technical lead at Google in Mountain View, CA.

The greatest thing about my desktop these days is -- that I'm less and less tied to it, in a growing number of ways!

My laptop comes with me a lot of the time, and my cellphone all of the time, and between them they do a good job of letting me work (and play) anywhere it suits me -- i.e., whether I'm actually AT my desktop, or somewhere else.

So Ian Bicking presents us with a picture of a black rectangle, and Alex Martelli's desktop lives in cyberspace where we can't see it. This column is proving less informative than I hoped.

Further, a growing proportion of my work (and play) that requires computer access doesn't any longer require me to be using any single given computer -- if I can get to any machine that has a browser and a decent internet connection, I can do my email, check and update my calendar and contact lists, plan trips, do word processing, work on spreadsheets, and more generally use an increasing number of both general-purpose and specialized applications that are made available as web-apps and/or web-gadgets.

Of course more and more people are becoming less and less dependent on using a specific physical device - the web has definitely started to decouple us from our computers. If Google can't achieve such independence then I wouldn't expect anyone could!

It's not 100%, yet ( e.g., as a developer, I'm starting to grumble about not having such web-app, online access to compilers and debuggers...!), but it sure looks like it's trending that way, and I'm seriously happy about that trend.

How nice it would be if all applications were web services, so our desktops lived in the virtual world and we could attach to them from any convenient physical device.

Thanks for sharing your desktop with us, Alex.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ian Bicking

Ian Bicking is a popular Python speaker and author living and working in Chicago.

Steve asked me to write about my desktop. I work at home, and here's my physical desktop:
I would argue that this is really a picture of the street outside Ian's office, but I suppose we haven't actually established any strict rules so he gets away with this since a monitor (and a bit) is visible.
On my computer I run Ubuntu; I used Debian for many years, and basically Ubuntu lets me be just a little bit lazier about setting up and maintaining my system, and that's good since I hate maintaining my system. I'm too afraid to upgrade my system to Python 2.5, so I haven't upgraded to Feisty yet. Linux on the desktop is wonderful, I have no qualms about using it, and I'd consider OS X or Windows a big step backward. Linux on a laptop was pretty bad (bad enough I got rid of it)... but I digress.

I am thinking about OS X on an Intel MacBook for my next laptop, since I know Windows developers who run Visual Studio under Parallels. Linux was a remote possibility: just why is it so bad as a laptop OS? Will I be unhappy with OS X? Can I run Linux virtual under OS X?

Clearly Ian isn't going to have any complaints about 2.5 language incompatibilities! I have bitten the bullet and upgraded under Cygwin, where I currently run 2.5.1, which is also available on Windows. 2.4.1 remains the default for serious work, however.

My desktop: though I run Ubuntu I don't run Gnome. I've never liked Gnome; desktop backgrounds and system toolbars and window decorations are all distractions. Programming is all about focus, so distractions are dangerous. So instead of Gnome I run Ion, a tiled window manager. You split the screen into non-overlapping tiles, and each tile can have multiple tabbed windows in it. You can't waste your time getting the windows just right; or rather, the windows can't scatter themselves senselessly over the screen and thus they are always just right.

Using a window manager that doesn't act like normal window managers used to be quirky and occasionally annoying, but all the quirks seem to be worked out now and everything just works. On the desktop, that is: since I have a simple network setup and I don't care about power management, I don't care about those basic system utilities that have become tied to the Gnome environment.

Simplicity in all things seems like a good idea, and this does seem simple. Do other Ion users have other information to add to Ian's praise?

So the "desktop" on my computer looks like this:

When you take away all the applications, all you get is a big black space. I only really use a handful of applications: Emacs, rxvt (a terminal), Firefox, Thunderbird, XChat (IRC), and XMMS (music). I loathe variety and experimentation.

Of course this picture might give readers the impression that Ian's desktop is dull. While previously unfamiliar with his desktop your editor can attest that Ian himself is not at all dull in real life.

I recently got a second monitor for my computer. I like it, but I'm also a little unsure about it. So far I've used it to separate my productive activity from my non-productive activity. That is, one monitor gets rxvt and Emacs and sometimes a reference web page, which is all I use to program. The other monitor gets IRC, blogs, email, music.

This is good because when I am distracted I don't lose my place in my productive work. This is bad because my unproductive work is always right there, ready to distract me. Figuring out how to maintain the best balance is about the only thing that makes me change my basic environment. Since changing my environment is just yet another form of unproductive work, I try to change my environment as little as possible.

So that's two screens full of black nothingness, then. Ian describes quite a spartan style here, and one that is somewhat at odds with his lightning talk at PyCon TX 2007. Perhaps we should see whether any of his PyCon drinking buddies can cast any light on this enigmatic figure. Anyone?

So there you have it: I seek all things dull. I suppose it then follows that I should work in a windowless white room. Then I would finally stay focused.

So now I understand why Ian seeks me out at conferences. Let's hope that room doesn't come with a strait jacket and padding on the walls!

Thanks for sharing your desktop with us, Ian