What I use, what I think of things

04 May 2020
11 minutes

For two decades I’ve been using software, online services and various devices as parts of my daily life. I’m writing them down so that I can track how my preferences evolve over time and hopefully help my future choices. Besides, I like reading this kind of lists written by other people, so here’s mine for other freaks like me to enjoy.

First version: somewhere in April 2020. Last update: August 2022

Computers

Since Octorber 2021 my primary workhorse is 2019 MacBook Pro with i9 CPU. I mostly use it at home with a dock connected to HDMI and USB switches, so that I can easily share displays and USB devices with three different computers. That setup introduces a separation between ‘work mode’ and ‘home mode’ which I find essential while working from home.

The reason I opted for an Intel CPU rather than anything-with-M1 was that at the moment of my purchase M1 MacBook Pro was a few weeks away from release. Apple’s Intel platform had quite a few years to mature and iron out various deal-breaking bugs. For example, until the release of M1 MacBook Pro none of the existing M1 MacBooks could support more than one external display - something I take for granted on other platforms. I don’t trust Apple enough to fix this kind of problems on a predictable schedule.

I still own a 2015 desktop with Intel Core i7-4790K and GeForce GTX 980 Ti which I mostly use for gaming. Unless any of its critical parts breaks down I have no plans of upgrading it. I’m even starting to question the need of owning a desktop PC at all.

Over the years I tested a few monitor setups. Initially I was using three full HD displays, then I switched to an ultrawide display + one full HD display. This setup irreversibly changed the way I use a PC. When it comes to productive work, one ultrawide display offers similar level of comfort as two full HD monitors while taking less desk space.

I use Apple Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse as well as cheap generic wireless keyboard and mouse for non-Apple computers. I run two separate sets of peripherals because it’s convenient and I have enough desk space for both. Running a single set for both Windows and macOS requires unreliable software tweaks that have to be maintained and I no longer have patience for that.

I retired my old Microsoft Ergonomy Keyboard 4000. None of its potential successors looked compelling enough to me.

OS / software

Since MacBook became my main development platform, I no longer use Ubuntu. I also run Windows 10 on a desktop and that’s unlikely to change since my PC doesn’t meet Windows 11 requirements.

For servers I use Debian or its derivatives. I know enough of Linux to feel comfortable with it and I’m okay to learn new things if I have enough time for that. I taught myself basics of Ansible and I try to automate as many server-related activities as possible so that I don’t waste time on repetitive tasks. I store my Ansible roles on GitHub.

For coding, I usually use Visual Studio Code with multiple extensions and a terminal app (Guake on Ubuntu, iTerm2 on MacOS) bound to F1 key. I sometimes use other software, like IntelliJ IDEA, but I’m not a fan of big IDEs. I also used Sublime Text and various flavors of Eclipse. I’m not strongly opinionated on my work tools. I’m open to trying new ones if they get the job done, but I’m rather bad at discovering them myself.

I used to run Pi-Hole on a Raspberry Pi 3B as a network-wide ad blocker, but I stopped due to problems with bringing it back after blackouts or ISP issues. I have a Raspberry Pi 4 with an SSD drive ready to take over but I’m too lazy to finally get this done.

I maintain my personal blocklists for Pi-hole and uBlock Origin. Pi-Hole is slowly losing relevance with the advent of DNS-over-HTTPS or smart devices hardcoding their DNS settings and I’m not happy about that. I hate online ads and I’m more likely to pay for good content than to agree to disable ad blocking upon request.

Mobile

Since June 2022 my daily driver is Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. I have nothing interesting to say about it. It just works. I wish it had better battery.

At any given moment I probably have one or two generic phones which I use for for work-related stuff or testing. I typically do not get attached to them, but I often use them more than my main phone.

In October 2020 I replaced my previous Android tablet with Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e. I use it as a tool for passive content consumption, usually watching videos.

In early 2010s I briefly owned a second-hand iPhone 3GS and I loved it. From time to time I think about switching to iPhone but I haven’t seen any compelling reason to pull the trigger. Owning an Apple computer didn’t make me change my view.

Services / online tools

Since late 2000s I use Gmail with my own domain. Around 2017 I started paying for Google Workplace (formerly known as Google Apps or GSuite). Ridiculous as it sounds to pay for email, I find it reasonable to pay for a service I rely so much on in my life.

I usually keep unread email count below 30. I don’t understand the concept of ‘inbox zero’ nor people who complain about hundreds of unread items in their inboxes. I opt in to receive email notifications for as much online stuff as I can. I use labels and filters to easily keep tabs on stuff I find important.

I’m a huge fan of email newsletters. Curated by passionate people, newsletters can be very efficient sources of content. I’m going to write a separate piece on newsletters I enjoy and I’ll link it here when it’s done.

I use Google Calendar to save anything that has to do with my time and requires me to take action. That includes bus tickets, commute times, payment dues and so on. This doesn’t mean I’m well organized. I just appreciate having a well-informed tool at hand whenever things get out of control.

I listen to music on YouTube, Twitch and DI.fm. I pay for YouTube Premium. I don’t use Spotify nor any other music streaming service. I find YouTube and specialized independent radio stations much better tools for music discovery than Spotify or alikes.

I rarely watch VOD content. Only recently (as of March 2021) I signed up for a Netflix account.

I generally find streaming platforms a huge waste of time. Whenever I gain access to a new one (I usually get it for free alongside other service I pay for) I get bored after a week of using it. I occasionally make exceptions to watch interesting series or movies I missed.

In 90% of cases I’m deaf to recommendations or marketing campaigns persuading me to watch anything in particular on any platform. In most cases, when I make an exception, it turns out it wasn’t worth it. Yes Squid Game, I’m looking at you.

I almost certainly didn’t watch any show you recently saw on Netflix / HBO GO / Amazon Prime / elsewhere. If you want me to watch it, be ready to answer and justify your choice: which of the following I should quit: (a) work, (b) books, © games, (d) sleep, (e) fun side projects like this site?

I watch YouTube a lot, mostly for edutainment. I like to think it makes me smarter, but I’m aware it’s just another type of entertainment product.

I made YouTube fun for myself by disabling watch history and opting out of all personalization options. I try to game their recommendation system by searching for random stuff that can’t be suggested to me based on my behavior on the platform. That way YouTube is more likely to serve me random (and sometimes interesting) content rather than content they want me to watch because millions of my fellows clicked it.

The problem I have with personalized recommendations in online services is that algorithms ‘believe’ all I need is either (1) more of the thing I consumed earlier, or (2) a lot of the things millions of other people reacted to. Even though I have some shallow understanding of a business model behind that, I find that kind of ‘personalization’ incredibly boring and, to some extent, harmful.

I watch Twitch, but not as much as I used to before 2018. In February 2021 I switched from Vertical Twitch to Alternate Player for Twitch.tv. I enjoy using third-party Twitch interfaces because they keep things simple and cut all unnecessary distractions. I use FrankerFaceZ and BetterTTV.

I rarely watch Twitch actively, i.e. paying 100% attention to it. I usually treat it as background noise while doing other things.

Messaging / social media

I use plain ol’ phone calls and texts, WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, Signal and Discord and many others. I’m not a fan of voice communication with electronic devices outside of professional environment. However, the 2020 pandemic made me reevaluate my stance on this.

I read Twitter via TweetDeck on PC and Fenix 2 on Android. I maintain a long blacklist of muted words. I wrote a separate article on how I use Twitter.

I browse Reddit via old.reddit.com and Relay for Reddit on Android. Some of my favorite subreddits are r/explainlikeimfive, r/NoStupidQuestions and r/OutOfTheLoop. Reddit is far from perfect but it exposes me to topics and ideas I have zero chance to come across otherwise.

I stopped using Facebook around 2015. It was severely disrupting my productivity while offering nothing of value in return. The only Facebook product I’m still okay to use is WhatsApp. You can also read my take on hidden costs of quitting Facebook.

I use LinkedIn mostly for keeping tabs on job market and business topics but I find this site very unsatisfying. I rarely learn interesting stuff or read insightful conversations on this platform. People tend to treat it as a more “professional” version of Instagram, which makes it very boring and artificial. There are people who produce tons of interesting content on this platform and I sometimes add them to my network, but that doesn’t happen often.

I often experiment with non-mainstream services and protocols. I’m that one weird guy that has had profiles in all social media sites before they get mainstream, including ones that never took off (remember Bebo? Orkut? MySpace?). For about a year I have been running my own Mastodon instance.

In mid 2022 my stance on social media have been evolving and you can finally find me on TikTok and (again) on Instagram. I am not a fan of these platforms and I have a lot to say about them, but I treat them like additional sources of traffic. I rarely use them to consume content, I find them waste of time by design and there’s no easy way to change my stance on this.

Art / gaming / varia

I read books, both on paper and on Kindle, but I never remember what I’ve read. I mostly read non-fiction. I believe real life brings enough interesting stories for me not to care about fiction at all. I particularly like biographies, documentaries and history accounts with focus on 20th and 21st century.

I like electronic music. I have a very wide understanding of this term, including so-called Berlin School, early 2000s European trance, drum’n’bass, dubstep, synthwave and many more. I don’t pay much attention to contemporary pop music, but I don’t dislike it too. What we nowadays call ‘classical’ music was primarily designed to entertain audiences - not much difference from what pop music has been doing for entirety of its history.

I don’t have preferences on specific books, games, music, or any other works of culture, so I don’t know what’s my favorite piece of this or that. Everything I consumed in the past helped shaping my inner quality index even if it was objectively bad. I sometimes like things that are mediocre. And I sometimes get heavily unamused by things that have been critically acclaimed.

I like video games. My first computer was Atari 65XE and I played a lot of River Raid, Boulder Dash and Moon Patrol. In 1990s I owned a Famicom clone known as ‘Pegasus’. Thanks to it I got to know dozens of popular NES games despite never having owned an original NES. In 2010s I briefly owned a PlayStation Portable, but I didn’t understand its appeal in the era of Android phones getting more and more powerful. I like racing games, strategies, open worlds and story-driven single-player campaigns.

At some point I realized I have way more games than lifetime to play them all and only a few of them are worth my time. I also didn’t want to skip big story-based titles. Instead of looking at my library as a ‘pile of shame’, I started to be more selective and treat it like a FIFO queue. I start a new game, finish it, pick next one in the queue, rinse and repeat. Adding a new title to my queue means I’m unlikely to play it sooner than in half a year. I make exceptions for interesting indies or service-like games like StarCraft II or Forza Horizon 4 and I play them whenever I feel like it.

As a side effect of the above, I refuse all and any games offered to me for free if they hadn’t been on my wishlist. I rarely follow recommendations or buy new titles on their release day. I also don’t follow any gaming-related news. By the time I finish a title from the top of my queue, the next item in my list will most likely be cheaper than on the release day.

In March 2021 bought a Nintendo Switch. For my thoughts on it check out Nintendo Switch, dishonest review.

To be continued or edited.