Setup 2022

Throughout the years I have taken on the habit to review my IT setup once a year, noting what has changed and what it consists of at the time of looking at it. The format has been blatantly stolen from and this .. well this is the entry for the beginning of 2022.

There have been two major changes with regards to how I approach computing. The non-technical one has been a change of professional scenery. After around 2.5 years in a management position I decided to join the technical side of information security again.

As much as it has been an experience that taught me quite a lot of things and massively improved my ability to communicate and work within a more diverse environment that I was used to, at the end of the day it was not and is not where my strengths lie. The endless slew of one meeting after the other was sucking the will to live out of me at record speed.

The biggest technical change occured last fall, when I gave away my quite powerful gaming computer to a friend. Everyone with just a tiny bit of financial responsibility in them is surely screaming out in pain, but that kind of responsibility has never really been a strong suit of mine.

I figured that this would be the only way to get me to reliably give up gaming for a while. I’ll spare you the details, but the bottom line is that the pandemic hasn’t treated me kindly more than one way.

As a result, videogames have turned from a cherished hobby into a way to pass days because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, nor did I feel like I would have the energy for anything else. And I wanted to break this cycle of boredom and a perpetual feeling of wasting ones life.

So for the first time in years I’m without a powerful computer at home. Instead I purchased an M1 Mac Mini, in the smallest configuration. I debated back and forth if I would be going for a Macbook or a Mac Mini. What eventually convinced me was saving a couple of hundred Euros.

I ended up regretting that decision eventually. Not with regards to performing or being limited what I can do with the computer. It’s more than capable of handling everything that I throw at it, which is unsurprising, given that most of the things I’d consider ‘work’ are handled by a browser and a terminal emulator. But I realised that it would have been nice to be able to grab my computer and take it with me on the couch, or to take it with me when I was visiting a local coffee shop.

Eventually, with a huge sigh, I sold my Mac Mini and went for a [Macbook Air] instead. I thorougly enjoy working with it, because on top of the #1 quality the Mac Mini already possessed (“Don’t bother me”) I could now take it with me. Once again, I can feel all the financially responsible people dying a slow, agonizing death over my incompetence.

I’m currently writing this post while looking at a G-Master G2770HSU-B1 from Iiyama. I moved last fall, from an old (but huge) to a new (but small-ish) flat. At my old desk i could easily mount three large screens without it being an issue. My new desk has enough space for one screen, not really more. Even if it’s on a monitor arm two screens give me claustrophobic vibes.

And honestly, it’s been a positive change. This past year, or maybe even longer, I’ve had multiple screens because I was used to having them. Not necessarily because I needed, or even actively used them.

Now, with just a single monitor, there’s not really something that’s missing from my point of view. Quite the contrary, actually. Subjectively my workflow has improved and I’m more focused all around because I don’t have to move my visual focus as much.

Speaking of writing, I’m typing on a Filco Majestouch Tenkeyless Ninja, with Cherry MX Brown Switches. It seems to be a habit of mine that I change keyboard every year.

In 2019 I got myself a Dygma Raise, which is now safely getting dustier by the day at the office. The year before that I bought a Unicomp Model M. And as much as I would like to manage it through 2022 without a new keyboard - since my choices are rarely of the cheap kind - I recently stumbled upon Keychron, and some of their models look really nice.

Plus: They are wireless, which I’m kind of curious about. I don’t like Bluetooth, but I have gotten to dislike cables on my desk even more. That must be evidence of becoming old an boring, since I’m apparently using the energy and fierce passion to fight dogmatic, meaningless mud-throwing-contestes about technology, instead opting for the rational route instead.

My other input devices include a Magic Mouse from Apple, which I don’t particularly like. But for some unknown reason I had one laying around, and since it works I keep it. For video conferencing, which fortunately isn’t occuring as much anymore, I use a Logitech Streamcam.

Audio is a different beast for me. Despite experimenting with different setups for years, from gaming headsets to semi-professional audio equipment, I haven’t found anything that I was ultimately satisfied with.

I currently switch between beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro and Apple Airpod Max, the latter ones are also being used for video conferencing, despite the (and I can’t emphasize this enough) abysmal quality of the microphone.

I got the Airpods for a steep discount when I bought the Mac Mini. And they aren’t bad. The audio quality is excellent, the noise cancelling is good as well. But I would absolutely not recommend them for anyone who would have to pay the regular price of around 600 Euros.

They are barely, if at all, better than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. While simultaneously costing nearly twice as much, with the additional bonus of some features being limited to the Apple ecosystem. As my tone suggests I’m not particularly happy with the current situation in that department.

It’s not that things aren’t working - they are, I have excellent audio quality (compared to my needs, professional audio producers will disagree) when listening to things and my microphone is not bad enough for my coworkers to want to mute me when I talk during calls.

But it doesn’t feel right to me. I am quite certain that I will make some adjustments in the next couple of months. I have been eyeing the Shure SM7B for years now, ever since it has become popular with online streamers.

But that would be a quite expensive addition, since the cost for it (including all the hardware that I would need to buy in addition) would be around 500 Euros. The “smaller cousin”, the MV7 might be the middle ground between sound quality and price.

My software stack is the perfect combination of boring sprinkled with a bit of nerdiness on top of it.

  • I browse the web with Firefox
  • I use for dealing with mail (since I don’t really use PGP anymore I don’t feel like with the sluggishness of Thunderbird)
  • I listen to Music with iTunes - I refuse to call it Apple Music
  • I back my stuff up with Arq Backup - to their storage offering as well as two geographically separated destinations that are hosted by myself
  • I use Rectangle for window management; I have always had a fondness for tiling window managers, but I could never deal with the lack of comfort features surrounding them to be able to stand them for longer periods of times
  • I use the default terminal emulator OSX comes with; Every Apple-user that I know recommends iTerm2 to me, telling me how good it is - and while I am sure it is, what’s the point if you don’t use the features it provides?
  • Inside that terminal emulator I run Zsh, which in turn runs instances of tmux, which in turn contain more z-shells. Shellception!
  • I do text editing in Neovim, and while I have been using one or the other version of vi(m) for nearly a decade now, I’m still absolutely not proficient at using it. Everyone who reads a tutorial for five minutes probably uses more features than I do.

As for customization, I avoided messing with frameworks such as Oh my ZSH, because as useful as they might be, they’re also huge and complex. And I’d like to avoid adding a ton of complexity to my setup for marginal gain in features. Integration for git would have been nice, but I got around that by replacing the standard ls with exa.

I did end up extending the functionality of neovim with a few plugins, managed by vim-plug. Specifically:

call plug#begin('~/.vim/plugged')
Plug 'pearofducks/ansible-vim'
Plug 'jcherven/jummidark.vim'
Plug 'vim-scripts/indentpython.vim'
Plug 'mbbill/undotree'
Plug 'vim-scripts/SearchComplete'
Plug 'yegappan/mru'
Plug 'coc.nvim'
call plug#end()

What I mainly use the terminal for is to remotely log into various kinds of physical and virtual servers, almost all of them running the latest stable version of Debian. I miss using Linux as my daily driver, but as much as the experience has greatly improved, there’s still a never ending stream of tiny issues that need fixing.

And while I did enjoy tinkering with my system on that level when I was younger, nowadays my main requirement for computing equipment of every kind is that I doesn’t notice it. I don’t want to be annoyed by tiny issues.

But as a server? Hell yes! I’m a big fan of hosting things myself. Partly because I like doing things myself, partly because I don’t like depending on big corporations for services that are vital to my daily digital life, and partly because I miss the time when I was younger, where everyone was online a lot more and having their own homepages and the likes. “Systems administration because of nostalgia” is not something I had on my bingo-card of adult hobbies.

For the time being I currently host (mostly in computers emulated by KVM) ..

  • A mailserver, with OpenSMTPd, Dovecot and Rspamd
  • This blog, quite obviously
  • An instance of Gogs, which I will hopefully migrate to Gitea soon
  • A couple of nameservers, with nsd
  • A couple of websites for friends and family - which is the standard ‘adult nerd’-thing to do

I don’t foresee significant changes on the client side of things, except the few potential hardware changes I mentioned in earlier paragraphs. I hope for big changes to the stuff I host myself.

While I do manage (most) of my configuration with Ansible, and use git, there are too many moving parts involved. With Terraform supporting KVM through an external provider I should be able to automate a lot of the creating of new virtual machines.

And since I gathered some experience with Keycloak in my last job I might finally be able to centralize my logins, instead of having to manually set passwords in and log in to my different services.

If I feel particularly adventurous I might secure my domain(s) with DNSSEC. I also hope to dabble with some of the cool DevOps-y software-stacks, but more on that in a separate post.

Taking a step back and looking at the big picture made me realize how the changes in my computing set were a reflection of significant changes in my life in general, throughout the entire last year.

It’s only been a short while, but moving back into a more technical role was a good choice. It’s giving me back a joy in playing around with technology that I had lost before. Coupled with moving into a flat that I feel significantly more comfortable in than my old one this gives me the hope that 2022 will be, in many regards, better than the last two years. Despite the pandemic still going on.