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What do people use to get the job done?

Forrest M. Mims III

Forrest M. Mims III

Freelance writer, photographer, science consultant

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Forrest M. Mims III. My degree is in government (Texas A&M). I served in Vietnam as an intelligence officer and spent three years working with high power lasers at the Air Force Weapons Lab. Since 1970 I've been a full time freelance writer and photographer and occasional science instructor and science consultant. My best selling book is "Getting Started in Electronics" (1.3+ million sold).

What hardware do you use?

My first computer was a crude hybrid machine that translated 20 words of Russian into English. I designed and built it for my high school science fair project back in 1962. It's now in the Smithsonian (go to DigiBarn and enter Mims in search box). My second computer (actually a calculator) was a Japanese soroban, the first of a series of abacuses I've collected.

My third computer was an Altair 8800 that I received in return for writing the first operator's manual in 1975. (I cofounded MITS, the company that developed the Altair, which was designed by Ed Roberts.) My Altair was displayed at the Smithsonian for 16 years.

My third computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80. It served me well. I then bought a Radio Shack Model 100, the first truly portable computer that most anyone could afford. I typed my first memoir into this tiny machine ("Siliconnections," McGraw-Hill, 1986).

Since those early days I've gone through many different desktops and laptops, mostly Dell PC-compatibles, one Toshiba laptop, a Samsung notebook, miscellaneous laptops, and only one Apple product, an iPad. The latter machine makes a nice photo album and browser, but Apple's word processor and spreadsheet were so primitive that I graduated to a highly productive tablet, Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 with an i5 processor. That machine allowed me to work with the highly complex Excel spreadsheets that compile, sort, analyze and graph my 25 years of atmospheric measurements (ozone layer, solar UV, photosynthetic radiation, haze, total water vapor and daily sun and sky photos). My main spreadsheet is >40 MB and has more than 9,449 rows of 456 columns of data plus dozens of charts. I also work with many other large spreadsheets.

In 2014 I graduated to the Surface Pro 3 with an i7 processor. This machine is my complete office, and the Surface Pro 2 and Toshiba are now my main backups. The giant Dell desk machines and their giant monitors have been retired. I just returned from the 24th year of calibrating my instruments at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory. The same Surface Pro 3 I use here in Texas accompanied me to Hawaii and is now back home. How amazing to be able to take my main work PC anywhere. It nicely fits inside a black Samsonite 10.1" Shuttle along with a mouse, cables, Netgear hotspot and a 2TB Passport Ultra (with 200,000+ photos and all my work).

And what software?

For many years WordPerfect was my favorite word processor. I still like WP but have moved to Microsoft Word for better compatibility. Lotus 1-2-3 was long my preferred spreadsheet. After Lotus faded away, I moved to Excel and OpenOffice. I now use Excel and LibreOffice.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would need a much bigger desk. My current desk is a roll top that has convenient slots and drawers for all kinds of desktop stuff. But it's usable only with a laptop or the Surface Pros. Someday I may switch to a tabletop with room for 3 giant monitors, two connected to the Surface Pro 3 and one for a network PC.

Mobile phones are a crucial piece of my research hardware. They are especially useful for checking satellite imagery to determine if the cloud cover for 600 miles west will be low enough for my nightly twilight measurements of the altitude of aerosol layers and the ozone layer. I currently use an iPhone 5 with a FLIR thermal viewer attachment and a Nokia 1520 with great access to my key data files via OneDrive.

As for my atmospheric monitoring gear, I build my own and also use five Solar Light Microtops IIs, which are based on my original ozone instrument from 1989. The 16-bit Onset data loggers used for my nightly twilight observations are launched from the Surface Pro 3 from which these words are being typed. My next memoir is also being written with the Surface Pro 3, the most productive computing device I've ever used.