The Setup


What do people use to get stuff done?

Seth Kenlon

Seth Kenlon

Writer, podcaster, multimedia artist

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Seth Kenlon, aka Klaatu, and I'm a writer, multimedia artist, and geek. I do a tech podcast called GNU World Order and run a site called Slackermedia, which helps artists create stuff on a non-commercial OS. I also get paid to do video and film work and support, so I do a lot with moving and still imagery.

What hardware do you use?

I've always liked tinkering with hardware, so I have an over-abundance of computers that I rescue from trash bins and repair.

For writing, I have a 2001 G3 iBook with a 500mhz PowerPC processor, 128mb RAM, and a third-party battery that just never dies. It doesn't seem to want to do graphics, so I just boot to a text console using Debian Linux.

For multimedia tasks on the go, I have a Lenovo laptop running Slackware Linux. It's a dual-Pentium4 chip, with an Intel Mobile 3000 HD graphics chip that never ceases to amaze me, and 3gb RAM. I upgraded its hard drive to an SSD drive utilizing IBM's JFS filesystem, so everything happens within the blink of an eye.

For the heavy lifting, I built an 8-core i7 box with 24gb RAM and a very efficient graphic-crunching Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 GPU. The true power of such a machine really only gets wielded, obviously, for big rendering or compositing jobs, but making music and editing videos on it is certainly a sublime experience. It also runs Slackware Linux.

My personal web server is a Raspberry Pi, running Slackware Linux. Its a 5-watt circuit board; you can't really beat it in terms of energy consumption.

I'm one of those people who hasn't got a tablet or a phone. I do have an old 3rd-Gen iPod that I found in a trash bin outside an Apple store; I had to replace the hard drive and battery, and I flashed it with Rockbox firmware so that I could structure my files the way I prefer, and the darned thing works to this day.

And what software?

I write a lot, almost always in XML, so I use Emacs in nxml-mode. I use the Docbook schema and process it with xmlto or xsltproc. I also use Emacs for screenplays, organizing tasks, web design, and coding.

I guess I do a lot of audio too; for that I use Qtractor (in fact I use it so much that I wrote their user manual for them), which is the DAW that replaced all the commercial stuff I used to use. It's pretty great for the mix of MIDI and audio work I tend to do. For samples and synths, I'm always using something different just depending on what mood I'm in. Part of the fun in synthesis is the discovery of new toys and new ways of making sounds, so I pick up new sound generators any chance I get, and then, like I used to do in hardware-based studios, just pipe synths and sounds into effects, and then into more effects, and so on. I took a circuit-bending class taught by Michael Johnsen, which blew my mind and introduced me to the world of hardware hacking in order to create very interesting and unique sounds outside of a computer, so I've been messing around with that side of electronics as well.

Video editing I do with Kdenlive, which is an amazing application. It ingests anything you throw at it, edits quickly and easily, doesn't get in your way, and has a splendidly flexible output system. It has an amazing curve-based colour-correction system as well as some nice built-in effects for keying and simple masking.

For more complex compositing and effects, I rely upon Blender, which is ubiquitous. It is most famous for its 3d modeling and animation abilities, but its node-based compositing features are some of the best on the market.

For revision control when writing or coding, I of course use git. What an amazing tool. I guess the other major software application that I use is GNU Bash; that is, a unix shell. The learning curve is a little steep but once you know your way around, the power it grants you is just unbelievable.

What would be your dream setup?

I want a laptop that could be ultra low-powered like the Raspberry Pi so I could use it all day long and never have to charge it, maybe even on solar power. Then, when I needed a monster computer for audio and video, I'd want to flip the switch to turn it to full power, and suddenly have the workstation of my dreams. Of course I'd also want the laptop to be modular so that I could upgrade components as I saw fit.

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