John December

John December

Geek. Walker. Shutterbug.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m John December, and for several decades my interest has been the Internet and its use for computer-mediated communication. My experience goes back to the ancient, heady times when the Internet was just getting to be known widely. I remember early Internet conferences in New York City and San Jose, and I wrote about the World Wide Web in 1994 and Java during its alpha stage in 1995. Since 1994, I’ve earned my living writing about the Internet and publishing reference information on my Web site. I feel very grateful to work in an industry and medium that is only a few decades old.

Today, I continue to work on my Web site as well as study topics that interest me. By networking with people in local, online groups–,,,,, and–I’ve put together my own post-graduate education in technology, photography, art, architecture, urban issues, philosophy, and more. My current enthusiasms are in photography and advocacy for walkable urbanism, car-free and simple living. I value living in downtown Milwaukee where I can find so many forms of architecture and urbanism from several centuries and various natural settings along the lakefront.

What hardware are you using?

My mobile computer is an Asus EEEPC 4G running Linux. I purchased this netbook in February 2008, and I have used it extensively since then. Because of its size (just a bit bigger than a DVD case) and its weight (about 1 kilogram), I don’t hesitate to take this computer anywhere, and the availability of free WiFi makes it possible for me to be online all over town and as I travel. I value this little EEEPC for the extreme portability it has given me.

My cameras are entry-level digital SLRs. I have two Canon Rebel bodies–the Rebel XSi and Rebel T1i–and several lenses covering focal lengths from 10 mm to 250 mm. I photograph city landscapes, architecture, and the natural features of the city in parks, at the Lake Michigan shore, and along the rivers. I also photograph people at meetings and at my girlfriend’s dance performances. I have learned a great deal by using this equipment and look forward to having a full-frame camera someday.

My desktop PC is a Dell Inspiron 545 Minitower with a Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 processor running Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit operating system. It works well, and the software for the tasks I do is easily available and works reliably. The faster dual processor of this machine is essential for the image processing and Web page production work that I do. I don’t tinker with computer hardware, so my main focus is having a fast computer that works simply and is familiar to me in terms of interface and software. Notably, in my setup, I don’t have a printer (I use commercial printing services when I need a printout)–I found that a printer is just too much effort and cost to maintain for the few times I need paper copies.

My voice communicator is a Motorola W370 Tracfone. I absolutely love this mobile phone because, for the first time in my life, I have freedom from the phone cord as well as complete control over which number rings my phone and which goes to voice mail. This simple phone is rugged, and I spend far less money on it than on the old land-line phone I used to have.

And what software?

For my general information and communication needs, I use the Google Chrome browser and Google services like gmail, google docs, calendar, and others. I like having my mail and calendar in the cloud, so that my experience is not based on accessing a specific hard drive. In this way, I can be on my EEEPC and get at the same stuff as on my desktop.

For my photo work, I likewise have an interest in getting simple, reliable software that works and then sticking with it. I use PhotoScape for editing, Qtpfsgui for preparing High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos, and GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) for image editing. I use fireuploader, and I use flickr to organize my photos. I have a pro account with flickr, and I essentially use flickr as my photography archive and rely on its features for tagging and organizing my photos.

For my Web publishing work, I have a highly-customized content management system. Ever since I first started creating HTML pages in 1993, I’ve cobbled together software to generate those pages. Today, I structure data using XML and have C programs to generate Web pages. Why C? Because I have an accumulated library of C functions that get the job done quickly. My content is reference-oriented, so that my readers need clean, quick-loading pages with a minimum of flashiness. I therefore have a very stable way to generate my content using stylesheets that matches my audience’s needs and my own work patterns. I also use a simple set of utilities to support this work–like a vi editor for Windows (Lemmy) and WebSite Publisher for ftp uploads. I value simple, clear, software that reliably produces the likewise simple, clear (I hope) content that continues to earn a living for me.

Another thing important to me is an idea: the commitment to live a materially simple life so that I can focus on the work I want to do. I’ve written a little ebook about simple living, and I continue today to live car-free and television-free (albeit with net video) in a small studio apartment–much like the graduate student lifestyle that I’ve never really left. By living frugally with few things cluttering my attention, I can focus on experiences and learning and do the work I enjoy.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup doesn’t quite exist! But it would include a digital camera that is as small as possible, extremely lightweight, and rugged. I would love a full-frame camera that does NOT have a flipping mirror and is quiet, weather-sealed, and ideally, with as few moving parts as possible.

I would want a netbook that is similarly rugged and has few moving parts (solid state hard drive) and is lightweight (about 1 kg), can run the software that I use to publish my web pages, and has enough processor power for large-sized HDR image processing. I regularly carry my EEEPC, camera, lenses, and associated utility kits with me on my urban walks for photos, and so I would like the whole set of things to be as lightweight and robust as possible.

Another aspect of my dream setup exists for me now: I am living the lifestyle I dreamed of long ago. I spend my time learning, creating, enjoying time with my lovely girlfriend, hiking along the lake, exploring the city, and attending meetings on technology and other topics. I am extremely grateful for these opportunities.

Photo by Jason Samsa taken at barcampmilwaukee 3.

Question format and CSS borrowed from The Setup under the Attribution-Share Alike license. Photos subject to their own copyright/licenses.