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Joey Hess' minimal approach (usesthis.com)
269 points by mastar2323 1845 days ago | hide | past | web | 120 comments | favorite



It's great to be reminded that productivity doesn't really depend as much on the tools you use as some might have you believe.

I keep thinking about buying a faster laptop, or I'm complaining that getting fiber is way to expensive where I live, and then I read about someone on an ancient tiny netbook on dialup who is probably way more productive than I am.


> I read about someone on an ancient tiny netbook on dialup who is probably way more productive than I am.

And you're not him. It doesn't matter how productive he is on "an ancient tiny netbook on dialup", it matters how productive you would be on it.

Getting a faster laptop or fiber is a simple matter of weighing the costs against the benefits for you. If it increases your productivity enough to outweigh the costs, then you should get it.


I read that as more of a reflection on the necessity of things. It's possible fiber would be an improvement for jakobe, of course, but perhaps only a local maximum. "This guy does without it - maybe the lack of fiber isn't the biggest thing holding me back."


And developping on slow hardware is like having a free continuous profiler.


Ok, because no-one's made the obvious point yet, I'll bite... What's more likely? That all the research saying more screen space increases productivity is wrong, or that joeyh is simply denying himself that bonus productivity? So just imagine how scarily productive he might become if he had my laptop...


Best question to ask yourself when buying a new tool or gadget:

How often would this actually help me?


"If it doesn't have a keyboard, I feel that my thoughts are being forced out through a straw."

Beautiful.


Yeah. Says the guy doing all his work on a 1024 x 600 display. I mean the guy no harm, but so much of what he says strikes me as incredibly back-worldly. Like using dial-up and limiting yourself to fan-less laptops. I mean I get the "thin terminal" philosophy where you have a shit laptop that connects to something much more potent. But where's the point if the connection sucks as well.

I guess in the end we have vastly different use cases, which is perfectly fine. I found it a quite interesting, if a little obscure, article to read.


I hate to pull this card on you, but what have you done? We're talking about a Debian developer who has also developed (and continues to develop) basically an open-source replacement for Dropbox (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeyh/git-annex-assistan...), by himself on an incredible budget. He actually Gets Shit Done, and does it relatively efficiently. I would not be surprised at all if a factor towards being productive is the fact that his daily Internet connection doesn't support browsing Facebook. And when you are a creator rather than a consumer (especially of the written word, be it code, essays or books), screen size rarely matters.


> And when you are a creator rather than a consumer (especially of the written word, be it code, essays or books), screen size rarely matters.

I don't necessarily agree with the parent post's sentiments, but I also disagree with this very broad blanket statement of yours. I am reasonably happy most of the time on my Macbook Air screen, but I definitely prefer to be coding on a larger screen when I can. I knew Joey back in college and he is a sharp guy with a LOT of working memory. My memory has gotten worse over time, and I tend to work with heterogenous codebases, so I can't fit everything in my head and need the screen real estate.

I know many excellent, productive devs who love having large screens to code on.


You sure you knew the same guy? My working memory is crap, and, presumably, getting worse. ;)

I find that functional programming really cuts down on the amount of mental state I need to maintain. So while I'll have some API docs and another module or two open for reference, I don't need to worry about what that variable gets set to two pages above.

Maybe avoiding that kind of unnecessary detail makes one's unconscious better able to work on the program too. Still learning about this: http://joeyh.name/blog/entry/on_not_coding_late/


I'm pretty sure he knew you, I remember when we worked at the same company, we held you in similar high regard :-)


Yes Joey, though I'm not sure if you still remember me - We co-founded CSLUG back in 1995. :-) I was a lowly freshman happy to get to geek out on Linux with CS folks. (Not many Physics people were really into it then.)


Ah, see, I can remeber your full name, Peter .. just had trouble getting there from the HN username. :)

As I recall, you were the secretary of CSLUG.. Indeed, querying my external memory for your posts, I find meeting minutes you posted that bring back memories. Nice :)

Nice to hear from you!


I can't fit everything in my head and need the screen real estate.

For those of us who use virtual desktops, the physical resolution of the screen is just a small fraction of the total. I code in a 12" laptop with just 1280x800 pixels, but my effective resolution is 20 times that.


Do you really use 20 desktops? If so, I'm curious what you use all of them for.

I try to limit myself to 3 but you have me wondering what else I could separate out.


At least for me, it's a completely different interaction pattern - basically switching between individual windows using desktop hotkeys.

I've got 24 desktops set up, but mostly use just 12. F1-F3 are generally code or whatever main technical task I am doing. F4 is compile+run, reload configuration and test, etc. F5 is Chromium for html documentation of whatever I'm working on (currently the Honda Civic service manual, sigh). F6 is evince with pdf documentation, and/or a second firefox window when I want some tabs that won't end up getting lost amongst others. F7 is Firefox for general web browsing, plus any pdfs opened directly from the web. F8 is generally email. F9 is music. F10/F11 is a wasteland of quasi-temporary shells. F12 is IM. Alt+F1-F4 generally get used when I'm in the middle of programming and want a clean slate to do some multiple machine sysadmin task. The rest only get used when I have a very seldom need for more desktops, but why wouldn't I fill out the hotkeys?

Shift+key changes to the associated desktop, bringing the active window along for the ride. Changing tasks (how I think people normally view virtual desktops) happens by letting the old task's windows fall by the wayside on their respective desktops. And yes, clearly this setup predates tiling window managers by quite some time.


I just had this epiphany. I tried to explain this too my friends but I still out nerd them and they aren't very excitable. I just bought one of the HiDPI monitor for super cheap and it does suck going back to the MBA screen, not just for real estate but quality (and Mac font rendering, bleck). What I can't get over is how much more productive I am. I can have three different bits of code side-by-side, a terminal with gdb, Chrome open with docs, all in one screen.

That's HUGE, at least for me. I'm constantly alt-tabing or changing workspaces on my Mac and every second I have to wait for that animation, or look at that variable name, or remember why it return an (int, error) not just (int), I was losing my momentum.

Honestly, I'm excited to start my full time job to buy another of these bad boys to use at work.


> I hate to pull this card on you, but what have you done?

Solid ad hominem.

On a related note, Hess has also taken himself almost totally out of society. Even UPS can't find his place. While it has a very Walden Pond quality to it, I personally include my social life in my "what have you done" list. Modern day Thoreau he might be, but remember that a lengthy git history doesn't make any person objectively "better" or more "successful" than other people. We're all just folk.


When the discussion is individual productivity, I don't think that questioning a critics ability to produce by drawing comparisons to another is, in the strict sense, an ad hominem. Probably not the most civil thing to do, but I don't think it is an ad hominem.


Probably not the most civil thing to do, but I don't think it is an ad hominem.

Which is why I prefaced as saying I didn't like to pull that card. I think the OP I was replying to just rubbed me the wrong way with his attitude of "so says the guy using a back-worldly shit 1024x600 laptop with dial-up", like joeyh was some sort of luddite who would be more productive with newer "better" hardware. It stank to me of being someone who didn't even know what joeyh was producing with his setup, and just brushed him off as "not productive", when I really feel that joeyh's example is something to, at a bare minimum, study as an example of what's possible when you slow down and focus on the code and design instead of dual 30in monitors and teh shinee.

Furthermore, GP, yes, worth is a totally artificial human construct; while you may value social interaction more than others, I tend to see developing open source software as being an almost infinite good, as it can improve innumerable peoples' lives, albeit only a little bit at a time. That's the power of software.


I hate to pull this card on you, but what have you done?

A legitimate question. However, I've known incredibly smart developers who get shit done, and often they like to hobble themselves. They tend to hobble themselves out of a somewhat irrational love of hardship. But often they'll justify it with some other very elaborate explanation that sounds very smart but is pure b.s.


Perhaps there is a closing down of focus being achieved through the 'hobbling'? I accept that if those people examined their process, they might find other ways of focussing without the hobbling


His connection is terrible because he lives up in the Blue Ridge of Tennessee. There is no broadband there and I wouldn't be surprised if the phone lines are poor enough that you can't connect at more then 28.8k on a good day.


To clarify, there is broadband up here in hills, but it is very unevenly distributed.

I lived near the top of a mountain in the same area, and was finally able to get cable after pestering Comcast for a few years.

The guy that bought the land at the very top of the hill was unable to get Comcast to run cable even with his offer to pay for the run himself. We cut down some trees for line of sight and re-purposed some satellite equipment and got him online via a second cable run to my house.


For writing or coding, a decent keyboard seems much more important than a high resolution screen. For consuming stuff the converse is true. (Even though I also prefer a high res display, and he mentions that it took him some time to set up Xmonad in a way that allowed him to effectively work with such a low-res display).


Except the Dell Mini 9 doesn't have anything nowhere close to a decent keyboard.


I owned a Dell Mini 9 hackintosh and recently sold it. I absolutely do not understand how Joey Hess uses it everyday for the sort of work that he does - the keys are roughly 90% of full-size, and I couldn't type more than a few words without hitting the wrong key. I feel admiration mixed with, "why?".


You begin your sentence with "Except" -- however you and the parent are saying the same thing :)


Well not everyone is coding in terminal windows and doing console-only stuff... for me doing interactive 3D development, a high res screen (or a couple of them) and a powerful machine is of equal if not higher importance than my keyboard.


I generally develop in terminal windows, doing console-only stuff, and I still feel stifled if I don't have at least two displays. I know that all the cool kids are using split terminals and the like, but I like to keep log output visible, a browser in a separate space and a console debugger up without having to toggle between them.

That anybody can get anything done with such constraints is amazing to me, but he's obviously quite good at it.


I use to feel this way as well, until, nearing the end of university (read: I was rather broke), I had the perfect storm of computer hardware disaster. I was forced to use for about a year just a single netbook with less than impressive resolution. Tmux and tiling window managers became my friends out of necessity.

Cut to a few years later and now I have 3 high resolution screens in front of me, pretty much all the time. I still tend to use just my laptop screen with tmux though, with the rare exception (during deployments, mostly).

I won't say that a single small screen is better, but I do think from personal experience that, after some time and initial effort, it really is not the handicap people think it would be. It certainly won't slow you down like a thumb keyboard will.


Haha. Same progression for me, too. Towards the end of uni, my Windows rig completely broke down.

Being broke, I ended up with a Toshiba netbook that couldn't handle more than a few browser tabs at once. Installed Debian to squeeze out some performance over Windows XP (first foray into Linux). Best thing that ever happened to me.

Soon I learned vim, tmux, and had my entire dev environment in a Guake terminal overlay that I could quickly toggle in and out of view. It was like having two full screens in one.

My work just bought us monitors and everyone is dual/tri-screening it. I just dock my laptop and use the single monitor, still using the same guake/tmux/vim setup.


It appears he is living off-grid so his biggest constraint is going to be power consumption. A smaller screen means longer battery life.


Haskellers don't need a lot of screen space ;) He might suffer the first installation of ghc/platform though.


He's a hardcore Debian guy. I'm sure that if he needs a custom build he probably farms out the compilation to one of his remote servers, and just downloads the resultant .deb file.


Not sure I understand, ghc/platform is hundreds of MB iirc, remotely built or not. Or maybe you meant a tailored ghc distro without all the statically compiled libs and such ?


I assumed that you were referring to compilation time on his netbook, but I guess you were referring to download time over dial-up?


Exactly, now we're both in sync.


I assume that he probably doesn't have to compile GHC all that often. He can probably just drive to the nearest place with free Wifi and download whatever he needs over a faster connection.


Programming is sadly still pretty much text-based. How many characters do you display on your monitor? Could you display as many with a smaller font on a smaller display?

I don't think screen resolution is the bottleneck in information transfer here.


I think it is great that it is text-based. Can you imagine searching for code without text?


Or diffs. Diffing in visual languages is a nightmare.


Indeed. I'm quite envious of this type of lifestyle. Although I'd take a thinkpad or an air over the dell.

My overall setup is quite similar. Xmonad & redshift are great tools for minimizing distraction over long periods of time. You can really get in the 'zone' in a way I find impossible without them.


Agreed. Obviously a problem which would be huge business if you solved it.


More on Hess' minimal lifestyle: http://joeyh.name/blog/entry/notes_for_a_caretaker/

I could have sworn this was a submission at some point, but I can't find it.


It might of been linked in the comments when his kickstarter was linked? That's when I remember reading it last.


> When power is low, I often hack in the evenings by lantern light.

The combination of forward-thinking hi-tech and rustic low-tech makes this feel like something out of science fiction. I picture him as a character in a Stephenson novel: a hermit hacker, off the grid, queuing up data and pulsing it out only when the cells are charged and the skies are clear.

Pretty awesome :)


Regarding all the comments here about dial-up and slow connections whether out of preference or necessity, I can't recommend enough having a slow connection and a data limit for helping you concentrate on the things that are most important to you, but take the most effort to think about or to do. I use a three mobile 3g dongle (UK) and pay £10 a month for 1GB of downloads. I use wget to crawl and download web pages to view offline. I've been doing this for over a year now and it's great for avoiding the huge potential distractions of broadband, torrents for example, being amongst the worst offenders (have you ever downloaded a 100 computer science textbooks and never got round to any of them because you were watching a whole season of star trek: next generation? It's kind of ridiculous.)


Mmmm.... "What would be your dream setup? I dream of a ARM-based netbook with exceptionally good battery life, an E-ink display, and fully open and non-proprietary hardware. I've put off upgrading for years since this seems such an obvious thing for the market to produce, but the market is fascinated with locked-down tablets instead."


While that device does sound nice to have around, I disagree with the notion that it seems such an obvious thing for the market to produce. It would have very little market appeal outside of the development community in my opinion.


I love this setup. After the new ARM chromebook came out I got all excited and looked about for a way to dual boot a full OS on my old series 5. It turns out it's easy now (http://chromeos-cr48.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/chrubuntu-1204-n...) There is a lot of pleasure in using such a small machine.

I am definitely looking forward to an e-ink laptop. As I get older my eyes grow more weary, but the e-ink display on my kindle is a joy to look at.


My main gripe with chromebooks is that they don't have a windows key (KEY_LEFTMETA). As a xmonad user, I have quite a lot of functionality bound to that key and I'm not too sure about moving it over to KEY_LEFTALT (mostly because of conflicts with my Emacs key bindings).


Have you tried overloading the search key (used to be caps lock). This key is roughly useless outside chromeos (and I never used it inside chromeos anyway). I am planning to bind that key to my windows-key when I get home tonight so I can use the keyboard to get at my Unity launcher.

As an aside, I was very impressed how well Unity runs on relatively anaemic hardware. for running a terminal and a web browser it runs great.


That's a reasonable alternative and something that one could get used to. After all, Vim and Emacs people have been rebinding Caps Lock to Esc/Ctrl for a long time. One possible downside is the extra strain that this would put on the pinky.

An alternative that I've been wondering about is key sequences (M x) for WM actions and key chords (M-x) for all other things. This seems possible to do in xmonad (last point in this blog post [1])

[1] http://versia.com/2009/10/xmonad-metacity-gnome/


I've been looking forward to an e-ink laptop as well. I was truly excited years ago by the "noteslate" project, but it never amounted to anything. There's clearly a place for simple, low-power devices. The ever-blurring line between e-readers and phones and tablets and laptops is exciting. With the trend towards minimalism -- distraction free writing applications -- an e-ink unitasker with git-annex syncing could be an amazing item.


"I don't use a desk. I work in five or six different places and postures around the house. When the weather's good, I'm outside, or on the porch. My preferred "desktop background" is some interesting view in back of my netbook's rather small screen."

This is such a liberating setup. I'm rethinking my need for a home office now.


You should just give it a go. It might work well for you.

It was a total failure for me because I found I needed the psychological aspect of going to an office and sitting at a desk to shift into "work mode." (The anecdotal 'proof' being a 2x jump in income between these two settings.) But we're all different.. luckily :-)


> This is such a liberating setup.

Yeah, it's "liberating" until you develop chronic back and shoulder pain later in life.


Observing your body and changing positions whenever they become uncomfortable is far better for your long-term health than is a well-engineered chair.

I now rotate between a standing desk, a normal desk, a couch (only when reading/exploring - typing here is tougher), and the floor, and all of my back problems have disappeared.


Pilates is great for developing that sense of individual muscle fatigue and for strengthening the muscles that will hold you in proper form.


To each his own, I suppose. I've been deskless for 4 years, mostly on a couch in a relaxed position with laptop on my, hmm, laps. It's much more comfortable for me than chairs and desks. I sometimes spend 16 hours per day pressing those keys; I don't think I could've survived that in a chair behind a desk.


You still need to be careful: 4 years is not that long. Middle Ages people were exposed to very harsh environments and still lived to 30.

I started getting neck pains after 11 years into my programming career. I attribute it mostly to programming on a sofa with a laptop -- in this position you constantly look a bit down (if a laptop is on your lap) and your neck will not like it.


I'd wager that it's more healthy than most home offices, which tend to restrict you to one position.


> Lately I've been focusing on programs that encourage broader use of version control systems, like git. The goal is to harness all the power that's been developed by developers for developers for managing source code, and redirect it to other purposes.

This is very interesting, especially his Kickstarter project[1]. I've always wondered how distributed revision control systems could be used in other domains.

[1] - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeyh/git-annex-assistan...


> I use the XFCE desktop environment, with the Xmonad window manager.

I was just going to try that in my xfce, what a coincidence. In case anyone is interested, here's the instruction http://www.haskell.org/haskellwiki/Xmonad/Using_xmonad_in_XF...


You can accomplish tiling installing x-tile in Xfce.


didn't know about that, looks like a much simpler solution. do you use it? will try out, thanks.


Let's make a petition for someone to produce this e-ink open arm laptop. I'd buy one immediately.


This does seem like a kickstarter waiting to happen. Open source laptop / netbook with an eink display, running Linux, perhaps with a modified distro with some tweaks based on the low refresh rate of eink (e.g. no animations, less drag and drop and more snapping).

On the down side, it probably only appeals to a select number of geeks, and probably not enough to make a kickstarter viable.


My understanding is that the big issue is that e-Ink displays have a miserably slow pixel update time. The new Kindle Paperwhite is on the order of 450ms whereas the average LCD display is in the single digit ms range. Great for static text, but horrid for anything real-time.


I should have mentioned that I'd be using text-mode mostly. With my keyboard refresh rate (25key/sec) => 40ms max per redraw. That's .. quite far. If you look at this old kindle refresh rate, used as a terminal screen for a raspberry pi, it's almost usable : http://www.ponnuki.net/2012/09/kindleberry-pi/

I wonder how it would be on a newer eink screen.


Another video: vim on eink

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdmX52SCpG0

not glorious.


This would still be far better than ancient 300 baud terminals. I bet some Unix editors still have the hacks in them to speed up operation over slow connections…

Although I don't know how well contemporary eInk displays would handle partial updates. If it e.g. doesn't save much energy compared to a full-screen refresh, there might be huge difference in battery usage, as even slower typists would cause more redraw than the page flips caused by your average reader.


Based on crappy youtube videos it seems eink screens support partial redraw.


Apparently, you can build yourself a netbook with PixelQi's transmissive-reflective display of the OLPC. Not quite paper, but at least black&white without backlight.

http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/19/how-to-install-pixel-qis-...


"The only other active computer in the house is my home server and internet gateway; a Sheevaplug with a wireless dongle and a dialup modem."

Everything else maybe... but I could never go back to dialup!


A dial-in might be useful though.


I've never been to usesthis.com before. What a wonderful website! I would love to see more interviews like this.


I like the idea of usesthis. But I'm a bit disappointed that most setups are boring and not really individualized. This makes a lot of the interviews uninteresting if you don't know (care for) the developer. "Spoiler:" 2/3 seem to be using a Mac Book and a fairly common configuration. Please don't misunderstand me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that configuration. But it's not very interesting to read about.

I think Joey Hess is a major exception here because he has a very individual and interesting setup. Stallman, Russ Cox and _why are a few other interesting setups iirc.


Yeah, I'm always trying to get interesting people, but I never know ahead of time what they use. Feel free to suggest more, though!


Actually, while I still very much like the idea of the site, I think I spoke too soon...it's very much focused on the hardware and software used, whereas I thought it was interviews with people in general from all walks of creative/hacker/writing/painting life about their workflow and how they get stuff done. More of these types of interviews would interest me.


Jason Rohrer has also an interesting configuration.

http://jason.rohrer.usesthis.com/


I rather liked http://amber.case.usesthis.com/ and http://andrew.huang.usesthis.com/, though theirs are not quite in the same vein as Joey's.


Several have been posted. Rob Pike's was interesting.


Interesting, but not totally unexpected as this is very much in the tradition of Unix terminal users. Never mind that today's "dumb terminal" is probably an order of magnitude more powerful than yesterdays mainframes, and you can fall back to even bigger servers without many problems.

But I'm always a bit surprised by small-screen laptop-only users, whether it's this rather charming off-the-grid kind or your average Macbook Air coffee shop inhabitant. I like my mechanical keyboards, large displays (area, not dpi) and desk-bound isolation. Never mind that laptops introduce quite a few technical problems (heat, upgrades, computing power) that are easily avoided by your cheap mini tower.

And I guess that's at least one minor way in which I've succeeded over distraction without even trying: I don't have a big need to mix my programming/writing/browsing with outdoorsy and/or (real-life) social elements. I wonder whether the rather common preference of landscape background pictures (e.g. Napa valley) is part of that desire.


5 months ago I transitioned from being a desktop C# app developer for medical devices to a Rails remote contractor.

This meant going from a dual quad core 3.33 extreme desktop machine with 3 displays (2 x 24 and 1 21) to an 11" Macbook Air with a 1.7 dual i5.

I'm much faster on the air. I have a tiling setup that I can quickly switch/move windows around, it keeps my vision and neck focused and reduces strain to both. It allows me to better mentally focus on what I'm currently working on, instead of having my IDE, source control, collab tool, bug tracker, etc, always visible at the same time. I'd rather do a couple quick chord commands than snap my neck 30 degrees one way for 15 seconds seconds then snap it back in the other direction.

As to heat/power? Spectacular with my MBA, this thing is as fast as last year's Macbook Pro and the iMac the year before. I've been writing software professionally since '96 and at least in the windows world, the tools have not changed a whole lot in that time period. The only advantage of a faster machine is faster compiles and db rebuilds/queries. And I'm not doing that enterprise level work of 300k+ code bases and 5 gig databases anywhere. But I did 15 years ago, and yeah, now something that would used to take over an hour might take 2 minutes. On my MBA is might take 5 minutes. For something I'd do a handful of times a day, not a big deal, but again, I don't do those types of things anymore.

Don't get me wrong. I'd appreciate more resolution. But probably more inclined to use that for extra clarity rather than increase my desktop space by a significant degree. There's a sweet spot where bad habits begin to creep back in, where just too much info is presented at one time that cognitive overload begins to set in. Just my personal experience, but I've had both setups and the latter works much better for me.


I have had a similar experience. I am a professional Java developer, which means 1G Eclipse + 1mm LOC projects. And started hacking on Go in my spare time. The difference is phenomenal. I can use a full screen terminal with vim + another screen with a browser. This is paradise.

All my tools respond instantly (with a big enough project eclipse stutters on every interaction, even with an i7 + 16G of ram). And I can code happily on my monster quad core or my hacked up chromebook. This is flexibility.

Like brandall10 I found that the difference in focus is enormous. I haven't connected with my code like this for years. In a modern IDE everything moves, every twitch of the mouse brings up some overstuffed menu or brings up some javadoc summary of somesuch. It is an environment of constant distraction.

My terminal is like a warm summer's morning. Clear skies and not a soul to disturb you.


I lived in Emacs + Ruby/Python/Perl for most of 1998-2008 and I've recently been forced into IDEs to do mobile development in Obj-C and Java.

And I'm loving it. I never had this much visibility into my code or anything close to the refactoring power (especially in Java). Maybe things go south with 1mm LOC projects but those are no picnic in Emacs either. I've gotten so addicted to the benefits of a good IDE that I think I'll take a serious look at Rubymine if I ever go back to doing Rails again.


I'm glad that this worked out for you. But my personal "story" wouldn't really fit either extreme. Whether it's a tiny eeepc or a 1920x1200 screen, it's all basically terminal multiplexer to me (or, well, Emacs frame organizers if I'm in that phase again). Not even arranged that differently. I'm not one of those guys with Wall Street multi-monitor-monstrosity setups‡, I too do fiddle with window managers.

For a while I even switched regularly between a 23 Inch Sony monitor and my 17" MacBook, both with the same resolution. The MBP even had the better CPU/RAM compared with the Office PC I abused for admin/dev purposes.

I still noticed that I prefered my desktop setup by a large margin. Mostly because those same pixels spread out over a larger area, encompassing a larger FOV for me (without me crouching like Rodin's thinker). Also, a much better keyboard. I can't really understand all the hype about Apple's scissor action chiclet keyboards. Last decent one they made was the Extended II. And all this in a package that costs much, much less. For my purposes, all those hyper-engineered ultrabooks (and their Mac inspiration) are overkill. Lots of really clever solutions and manufacturing advantages that I simply solve by putting all that in a large enough box. I simply don't gain a lot from all that cleverness.

‡) Well, apart from when I have to do lot with a browser, either for development or reference. A ridiculous number of sites break when the browser window is too narrow, and switching back and forth between only two applications is a bit of a waste of time. I remember this not being a problem when I was using half my 1600x1200 CRT back in the days…


It sounds like the new Chromebook is a pretty good solution for him. Or maybe wait a year more for the next-gen one, which hopefully will have a 4 cell battery.


I've been looking for a replacement for my Mini 9 and this seems to be about the only thing out there. Microsoft sure has strong armed everyone to make things with regular HDDs because they needed to run Windows... I actually went into Microcenter last year looking for a SSD netbook, and they practically chased me out of the store, and added $50 to everything that wasn't Windows (which they didn't have the prices on anyway). Does anyone know of a company that has Netbooks without Windows on them at a $250 price point? Dell's Linux pages are non-existent. I can't believe that something I bought in 2008 is now double the price.


I have been searching for this laptop too. The only solution I found was to dual boot my chromebook. Works beautifully and the hardware is cheap for what it brings to the table.


I was going to recommend Zareason, but it looks like they dropped their netbook line :(



I know for myself at least, upgrading to newer hardware is mostly a big distraction from work or whatever it is I probably should be spending time on. That said, I had a mini9 for a few weeks and typing on that tiny keyboard was pretty painful, so props to Joey for sticking with it.

If Joey is reading this... It sounds like you are living in a remote place. It'd be cool to see a more detailed blog post with pictures. Also as someone who has lived with a flaky dialup connection for a long time recently, I can highly recommend mosh. Setup irssi+bitlbee on a server running under tmux. Then connect with mosh and attach to tmux. This way you get reliable chat and irssi should set the important flag for the window, giving you notifications of new messages too. You can also configure irssi to mark you as away when you disconnect.


I love his minimalism. He loves hacking but he hates devices. He lives in the most natural milieu he can construct.

"I mean the guy no harm, but so much of what he says strikes me as incredibly back-worldly."

No. He approach is incredible modern.

There's some Jobs-ian about it. Steve Jobs ultimately hated devices, because a device embodies the barrier between you and the effect you need. That is why Jobs strove to make devices as small, unobtrusive, and natural as possible.

(I just started purchasing Apple, and have thus only recently began mulling about Steve Jobs's vision.)


big respect to this guy and he seems to make awesome software. But using a 5 year old netbook with very low resolution and 2gigs of ram, no external Screen and dialup modems for internet doesnt seem like a very productive working enviroment...but if it works for him, why not, but this is clearly is too minimal for my taste ;)


Probably makes it less tempting to procrastinate on Hacker News. Upgrading Debian Unstable must be fun though. Ugh.


Actually, it wasn't so bad in 2006 when I was running Debian. I ran apt-get update && apt-get upgrade at 3 am via cron.


Yeah, the trick must be to run it regularly. Skip the upgrade and you're in for 900MB of upgrades (though deb-delta can help a lot).


Actually, I was subscribed to the security repository, meaning I only got security updates, and over the year and a half I did this, there were probably no more than 10 megs of updates total IIRC.

You're probably (and the OP, Joey Hess is definitely) talking about Debian unstable, though, which does not have a security repo. (I was on testing IIRC.)

It was not hard to upgrade to a new version of Debian, either, because the tool I was using to download the necessary files, apt-get, would reliably restart the download where it left off, so I downloaded the files over about 7 consecutive nights.

It was pretty sweet, actually. In contrast, I wouldn't have a clue how to keep OS X updated with security patches using a dial-up connection.



Apple's update flow is huge, averaging over a gig a month it seems to me. Probably impractical to download it all over dial-up even if you run the updater every night.

But let me ask why you jumped into this conversation: do you or someone you know of have experience keeping OS X patched over a dial-up connection? Do you have reasons to believe it is possible?


It is just random thoughts, but may be this very limited setup helps to think through software he develop more which probably results in better software overall.


I probably enjoy using whatever he writes, because it doesn't assume the latest hot.


"I dream of a ARM-based netbook with exceptionally good battery life, an E-ink display"


Did I miss this in the article, but whereabouts does Joey actually live?


whois branchable.com says:

  zipcode: 37620
  city: Bristol
  state: Tennessee
  country: United States of America


"I've used nothing else since 1996."

Wow, that's impressive but I'm not sure I'd be proud of not "using" any other Operating System than my favourite for 16 years.


why? Linux has such a vast ammount of possible usage patterns that his experience is probably much more eclectic than someone's who was hopping between windows and mac systems. (if we're talking about using OS on the desktop, I guess I don't have to start about his Debian knowledge on the server).


It's a handy way of ensuring that your time spent dicking about is minimized. I used nothing but Windows from 1999 until mid-2010 (and I used MS-DOS as well between 1993 and 1999). Windows 3.x was horrid, Windows '9x was horrid, and Windows 2000 and following have their disadvantages, but there's a lot to be said for never having to relearn any of the basics. I used only Windows XP from 2002 (or 2003?) until 2010, which made things even more convenient.

Some people seem to like shaking things up every few years, but I'm not one of them - it just takes time away from doing what I consider more interesting stuff.


I stopped using linux and started using osx because linux always involved way too much dicking around by it's nature.


That's certainly not my experience. After some trial-and-error during the first couple of months, in which I move from Gnome → XFCE → Fluxbox → Awesome and I configured the system to my liking, it's been extremely stable. Four years and two laptops later, I'm using the same setup without having to do anything but the occasional update, and the fact that I'm on a rolling release (Debian Sid) means my software rarely changes a lot at once.


Same here. A person who knows how to program and who are easily annoyed by things like inconsistent computer behavior or lack of design aesthetics should probably avoid Linux if their interest in an OS is to help them be productive.


I find Linux to be extremely consistent; almost all programs I use read data from stdin, process it according to some arguments and output the result to stdout ;)


In all seriousness, the non-GUI parts of Linux are more consistent than the GUI parts IMHO.


A lot of Linux based devs prefer "classic" development tools like emacs or vi and operate primarily from the terminal.

These things tend to stay very consistent over time, if I was using Windows I would have had to learn powershell over the last few years. My BASH knowledge is still as applicable as it was 10 years ago.


What I meant by "inconsistencies" is that Emacs's keybindings and other conventions differ from, e.g., Firefox's, which differ from Vim's.


Vim and Emacs use different keybindings whichever OS you use them on AFAIK.




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