Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers

TED speaker, founder of CD Baby

Posted in linux

Who are you, and what do you do?

Derek Sivers. Founded CD Baby in 1997, sold it in 2008. I speak at TED, wrote a book, moved to Singapore, and am now starting some new companies.

What hardware do you use?

That's all. I've been living out of a carry-on bag for a few years, until recently, so the less, the better.

Best feature of the Lenovo T400s laptop is its DVD bay can be removed with a switch and replaced with an easy 2.5" drive bay that you can just pop drives in and out of, with no screws. So I have everything backed-up twice on two cloned 2.5" terabyte drives. And two cloned drives filled with the entire collection of Roger Ebert's "Great Movies".

And what software?

I love love LOVE Arch Linux. I used to be an OpenBSD fan, but it was sometimes a drag for day-to-day laptop use. I switched to FreeBSD, which I still love, but missed having Flash for YouTube. I used Ubuntu for a while, but it felt too hand-holdy, too much stuff pre-installed, like those awful Windows computers where the manufacturer has installed a bunch of crap in advance "for your convenience".

Then I found Arch Linux. Ahhh.... SO nice. Starts with nothing. A bare command-line prompt to install the core. That's it. A minimalist's dream. Everything that gets installed past that is something you chose to install. They do "rolling releases", so the software is just updated every few days. It's always cutting-edge current. Love it.

By default, I boot into raw console mode. No Xorg. No graphics. It keeps me focused and writing, keeps me away from a web browser. I think my best work is done in this mode.

When I do startx, I use the Ratpoison window manager, which I also love. Everything full-screen always. No menu-bars or anything else.

Then I just use xterm and Firefox all day.

I do almost everything in the terminal and Vim. Even email, I run my own Postfix mail server and SSH into Mutt to check/send mail.

I have an aversion to installing a big GUI software when my little terminal is good-enough.

Music or movies? Mplayer. Accounting? Ledger. Image editing? ImageMagick. PDFs? xpdf.

But two GUI apps I'm happy to use:

For learning Chinese, I use the awesome Wenlin.

For learning anything, I use the awesome Anki, which I love so much I donated $500 to. (The author wrote me back, thinking it must have been a PayPal mistake.) For learning Chinese in Anki, I use the great Pinyin Toolkit.

Lastly, I also use Skype, but hope that someday I could use a command-line VoIP app instead. (Know of any? I guess it's not much of a market, huh.)

No apps on my phone. When I'm away from my computer, I enjoy being pretty disconnected. But I do use its built-in Google Maps + GPS, since I'm usually in places I've never been.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm very happy with this. Any shortcomings are my own, not my gear's.

I wish I could piece together laptops like I can desktops. I'll take this shell, this keyboard, that display, this CPU, that GPU, this drive, that mouse, etc. I could upgrade certain parts when needed, but keep the rest as-is.