The Setup


What do people use to get stuff done?

Daniel Lemire

Daniel Lemire

Computer researcher, professor

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Daniel Lemire. I have been studying and programming computers since I was 12 years old. I have been an entrepreneur, a government researcher and a university professor. I once designed, built and sold software for a living. Somewhat by accident, I became a computer science professor but my true love is hacking. These days, I do research on indexing problems, trying to milk recent processors for bleeding edge performance. It is really an excuse to write crazy software. Most of my software is published as open source software. I have also been blogging weekly since 2004 about computer science and related topics.

What hardware do you use?

I own two MacBooks: a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro. Both are less than two years old. I also own an old iMac. I spend most of my time on the MacBook Air because it is light and powerful enough. I should stress that I can work at the oddest of places, from my bed up to the local coffee place. I cannot stand office chairs and desk.

My campus laboratory is mostly made of Linux boxes that I share with my students and collaborators. This is where the expensive computations happen, not on my laptops.

I also own several tablets (both Android and iOS). I mostly use my iPad however: I was an early iPad adopter and I have since upgraded to the iPad 4. I am very pleased. I have since thrown away my Kindle ebook reader.

I do not own a cell phone. The best way to reach me is by email. I do, however, carry a Garmin GPS, a high-end compact camera and a WiFi tablet in my backpack.

I do own a TV, but it never gets used as a TV: I don't have cable. However, it is connected to a Mac Mini, a Rasberry Pi, a Playstation and a Nintendo Wii U.

I also own a ChromeBook, but it is mostly for my kids or for traveling.

Occasionally, I hack electronics so I have a tiny maker lab in my basement filled with transistors and Arduinos.

Though I own an iPod and it is somewhere in my living room, we never listen to any music. We are a quiet family and I like my office to be quiet.

I do drink a massive amount of coffee however. I roast my own coffee with a Fresh Roast SR500.

At home, I own a ridiculously large and expensive wireless Brother printer, but I rarely print anything. A few years back, I threw away most of my paper books and all of my xeroxed articles.

I always carry a small notebook and a pen. More than anything else, it keeps me sane.

And what software?

On my Macs, I use Smultron as a text editor when I am not in a bash shell, despite the fact that it is buggy. However, most of my C++ and Java hacking is done using an older version of Eclipse. I should stress that I mostly use Eclipse as a fancy programming text editor: my programming happens in command shells. For C/C++, I use makefiles, and for Java, I use maven.

For web browsing, I use Google Chrome. As a LaTeX editor, I use Texpad. When people send me office documents, I open them with OpenOffice.

My iPad mostly is most just used to play video and the standard Google apps like YouTube and Google Plus.

When I connect to a Linux box, I use vim as a text editor. For various reasons, I tend to write a lot of my software in vim.

I use an Ubuntu distro for Linux, mostly because it is the most popular option.

For managing my time, I rely mostly on a private wiki I have setup (it runs Wikka). I have designed a system inspired by GTD that allows me to prioritize tasks and keep track of future projects. It works in conjunction with the notebook I always carry.

My blog runs on a self-hosted (and slightly hacked) version of Wordpress. It gets backed up to my iMac every week.

When I give presentations, I like to use Prezi.

When I need to draw diagrams, I use Omnigraffle.

I never crunch numbers with a spreadsheet: I prefer to use text files and Python. I generate my plots using a mix of Gnuplot and Python.

To sign forms electronically, I have been using something called FormulatePro. It gets the job done.

Most of my important content is on GitHub these days though I still use Subversion for some legacy stuff. I also occasionally use Dropbox, especially when I need to deal with pesky office documents.

When I must attend a meeting, I like to rely on Skype though I have had good luck with Google Hangouts too.

What would be your dream setup?

If I could find a way to make office documents go away, it would simplify my workflow. There would be no phone in sight.

Short of that, I'd like to be able to do all my work from a device no more intrusive than a tablet. Though I love my MacBook Air, I think it will feel and look bulky in 30 years.

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