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 Nils M Holm

Nils M Holm

Writer, computer scientist

Posted in bsd, developer, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

This is a tough question! Most of my life circles around writing all kinds of things, mostly non-fiction and fiction prose and computer programs. To me programming is art rather than craft. So is science, because there seems to be an obvious correlation between correctness and beauty.

I have self-published some books about a variety of subjects, ranging from computer science to statistics, Buddhism and meditation. Then there have been two short excursions to the realm of science fiction. I have also designed and built a lot of science fiction models.

It is hard to be interested in so many things, because most people want you to be the X-guy, whatever X is, and this is not how I work. Today I might be interested in lambda calculus and tomorrow in entomology or poetry or whatever comes my way. I like to really dive into stuff and become completely absorbed in it. Sometimes I go from zero to "I'll write a book about it" within a few months.

What hardware do you use?

My rooms are full of white boards. A good whiteboard marker is an essential tool. My preferred brand is the Pilot V Board Master. Then there are lots of other writing tools, from a Pelikan M200 piston filler fountain pen to an old Wanderer Continental mechanical typewriter to the usual computer gear. I mostly start new endeavors on a sheet of paper or a whiteboard and then migrate to the computer as things begin to take shape.

I really like ThinkPads, but for some reason my current workplace machine is a Dell Latitude E6410 notebook computer. Most probably got it cheap from a used parts dealer. It is underclocked to 750MHz, because that is all I need. Honestly, I could do 99% of my work on a 16MHz 286 box without any significant loss of productivity.

Just to prove the point, I sometimes write texts and programs on my Amstrad NC100 notepad computer. That is a 4MHz Z80-based CP/M machine with 64KB of RAM, and it really feels quite snappy.

The Dell is connected to a 24-inch monitor in upright configuration for reading PDFs and a Cherry G80-3000 linear (black MX) keyboard, which I think is one of the best keyboards ever built.

Are books hardware? I have owned thousands of them in my life, I have read all of them, and they are the foundation of all of my endeavors. I often sell or give away old books, but they still keep accumulating somehow.

And what software?

My current operating system is FreeBSD 10.1 (which is six years old at this point and has never been updated), but I might return to OpenBSD now that it has good support for low-power states on notebook computers.

My window manager is a patched version of dwm that uses floating layout exclusively instead of tiling. I have one monochrome 80x24 xterm window per workspace as well as one workspace for GV (Ghostscript), and one for some old version of Firefox with JavaScript disabled. I read mail using mutt and Usenet News with tin. All versions are very old, I update software basically when the hardware dies.

For writing prose and programs I use BSD's vi (nvi). I write software in T3X, C89, Klong, and various dialects of LISP. The usual Unix tools are indispensable for gluing things together. Most important to me are the Korn shell (pdksh), awk, sed, and make.

Klong also doubles as a nice scientific calculator for the command line that I use for all kinds of quick calculations. I use a lot of software that I have written myself, because I am only happy when I understand exactly how things work.

What would be your dream setup?

What I have. I could not imagine anything that would improve my work flow much. Maybe a slightly larger monitor for PDF reading at some point.

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