Coraline Ada Ehmke


Coraline Ada Ehmke

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm the notorious social justice warrior Coraline Ada Ehmke. I work remotely from Chicago as a Principal Engineer for Stitch Fix. I'm an open source advocate, international speaker, and software developer with over 20 years of experience building apps for the web. I was recognized for my work on diversity in open source with a Ruby Hero award in 2016. I'm also the creator of the Contributor Covenant, the most popular open source code of conduct in the world with over 40,000 adoptions. I'm a founding panelist on the Greater Than Code podcast, and in my free time I work on a secret artificial intelligence project and write and record music as A Little Fire Scarecrow.

What hardware do you use?

2017 MacBook Pro, maxed out specs, side by side with a 27" Cinema Display. I use a Kinesis split mechanical keyboard and a Bluetooth Magic Trackpad.

In my music studio I also use a Presonus FaderPort 8, a LinnStrument MIDI controller, and an M-Audio rack mount audio interface. This lets me record my nine guitars, bass, Prophet analog synth, mountain dulcimer, and vocals and mix them to perfection. The studio is dominated by a walnut-stained Platform music production desk from Output. It's huge, solid, and versatile. It has room for nine racks worth of hardware, a two-tier work surface, and a slide-out tray for my MIDI controllers.

And what software?

If I'm doing Ruby, I do it in both Atom and BBEdit (I love the regex support in BBEdit and I've been using it since 1995!) For Go, I use Visual Studio Code; I'm fairly new to Go so I appreciate the help that an IDE gives me, and there are some great plugins for debugging and testing, too. For Swift I use Xcode. Some people might look down on me for using GUIs but I am a very visual person and I don't mind lifting my fingers off the keyboard from time to time. In the studio I use Logic X and adore it.

What would be your dream setup?

I wouldn't change a thing about my physical space. I work from home, which is great, and my desk is in a sunroom that is pretty much all windows (west-facing so I can see the gorgeous sunset at the end of my day.) I love my hardware setup but I would be even happier with two 42.5" 4k displays, one on either side of my laptop. Preferably on adjustable mounts. In the studio I would love to have a maxed-out 27" iMac dedicated to music production — even my MacBook Pro has trouble keeping up with Logic at a decent sample rate. My Patreon is at… just kidding. Sort of.


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Suz Hinton


Suz Hinton

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Suz Hinton. I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, where I slowly learned to embrace the nerd that I am. I moved to the USA 7 years ago, and am currently based in New York City. I work as a software developer in developer relations at Microsoft.

I partner with both companies and communities to help them make the most of Azure Cloud Services and other Microsoft tools. It's a combination of pair programming, public speaking, documentation writing, and building interesting prototypes. It's fast paced learning and teaching; I never run out of projects that I want to do.

Off duty, I maintain several well loved JavaScript hardware libraries, and build electronic contraptions to delight others with. I really like reading technical papers, and geeking out about frontend performance and accessibility. I also live code on Twitch most weekends, with a quickly growing audience tuning in to watch.

What hardware do you use?

Suz's desktop setup.

I work from home, from my study. I have a cheap IKEA "desk" that I bought over 5 years ago. I sit on a half price refurbed Aeron Chair which supports my back really well during many hours of working. I stare at an Acer K272 27" monitor all day. I use a Perixx PERMICE-712 wireless mouse], and a much beloved Leopold 660M mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX brown switches. I currently have lavender keycaps installed. This keyboard is my pride and joy for writing software.

I use two different computers. My work computer is a Microsoft Surface Book, and my personal computer is a 13" 2016 Apple MacBook Pro.

For streaming, I use a Blue Yeti microphone, two Logitech C920 Pro webcams, and OBS Studio streaming software.

My 3D printer is a Printrbot Plus Metal with dual extrusion and a heated bed. I run it wirelessly using OctoPrint running on a Raspberry Pi. My soldering iron is a Hakko FX-888D.

My coffee grinder is a Bodum BISTRO, and the coffee making process is done with an Aeropress. I import Bonsoy soy milk because I am a weirdo about the taste of soy milk in coffee. It's my one food extravagance, because outside of coffee I'm mostly disinterested in food.

And what software?

I use vim as a code editor. On my MacBook, iTerm is my terminal of choice. On my Surface Book, I live in Bash on Ubuntu running within ConEmu. I use mostly Chrome and Edge as my browsers. OneNote contains my entire life. In there I store my daily task lists, blog post ideas, long term projects, career goals, and almost everything else you can imagine. I also can't live without my Outlook calendar, so I know where I need to be at all times. I listen to music daily with the Spotify app. My favorite headphones to listen with are Sennheiser PX200 IIs.

My favorite software languages to code in are JavaScript and Python.

What would be your dream setup?

Ideally I'd like to work from a room with very large windows and trees outside. I love watching birds and other animals while I'm thinking. I would love a minimalist, white desk (a real one). An additional, separate work desk for soldering and making messy things would be so amazing. I currently program and solder on the same desk, so it's not very roomy or practical. I really like the idea of having multiple screens, like in a clichéd hollywood hacker movie. Right now I don't have the space for many screens. I would fill the rest of the space with plants and the art of my friends. Most of all, I relish a quiet environment. I have adapted to noisy New York City, but love and miss true silence all the same!


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Kornel Lesiński


Kornel Lesiński

Who are you, and what do you do?

I love pixels. I'm a programmer and a newbie small business owner. I work on image compression.

I'm the author of the ImageOptim, pngquant, and a maintainer of MozJPEG. I also work on a few other Open Source projects such as Sparkle (Mac updater) and SuperAgent (like fetch before fetch happened).

I spend most of my time finding ways to make images load faster and look better. My day job is the ImageOptim web service, where I turn my research experiments into a real product.

What hardware do you use?

I use a 2014 MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It's a very nice machine. I have the higher-specced i7 configuration, so the latest MacBooks don't seem like a big upgrade to me.

I use it with the Belkin Thunderbolt dock, so I've been living in the "everything in one port" future for a while. I literally use every single port in my machine and the dock, even FireWire for a backup disk and HDMI for a projector (AX-100). Even though I like USB-C, I'm too invested in Thunderbolt to abandon or dongelize all my peripherials.

I was an early adopter of high-res monitors. I've got an now-old 30" Dell WFP3008. It's big, heavy and emits significant amount of heat, but I got it when it was one of the few larger-than-HD monitors available. Display Port was such a new and exotic thing back then, that I've had to import a mini-DP to DP cable from China.

My other monitor is a 4K Samsung U28D590. It's the early model with a TN matrix with bleak color, lousy viewing angle, and a non-VESA stand with absolutely no adjustment. I also have to reboot it every few days (yes, my monitor crashes). But the 4K resolution still makes up for all of it.

As for keyboards, I don't understand why right-handed people tolerate keyboards with numeric pad taking up space where the mouse should be. I used to have (and love) an A4Tech keyboard with a numpad on the left. Now I use Truly Ergonomic. It deserves its name. It has an unusual, but very convenient layout. Return and Backspace are the middle of the keyboard. Arrow keys are 4-way rather than tetromino-shaped. It took me a while to re-learn touch typing on it, but it was worth it.

I live paperless. You won't find a pen on my desk. I scribble on my iPad or Pixel XL. I scan and archive all documents with an imageFORMULA scanner. It's nice, small and pretty fast.

Speaking of the Pixel XL – it's excellent hardware. Sleek, beautiful screen, with a battery that's almost large enough and charges fast enough. The fingerprint sensor is so fast and so conveniently placed, that I use it, despite knowing that Android's hardware security is weak sauce.

I dread upgrading Android phones. Every time Android migration assistant loses all my data from all non-Google apps. Reinstalls them fresh, with no logins, no local strorage, no save games — nothing). As if Google did not believe data outside of their own servers exists. I might switch to an iPhone, because Apple's Android to iOS migration assistant can't be any worse.

I've got the Daydream VR headset for the Pixel. It's fun for a few minutes. Its controller significantly improves interaction in VR compared to Cardboard, but it has a fatal flaw: it has created another axis of Android fragmentation. The Daydream headset only works with a dozen of its own apps, and deliberately blocks access to the hundreds of VR apps written for Cardboard.

I have a Pebble Time — now a zombie. I use it to check in on Swarm and to reply "OK" to Signal messages. And, with the always-on screen, I can check the time without a shake gesture, 20th-century style!

I've also got an AMD-Ryzen-based PC with elementary OS as my secondary computer for number crunching. I've got it because the Mac Pro is on an "accidental" 5-year hiatus, and today there just aren't any Macs with high-end GPUs.

The last bit of hardware is my beloved Herman-Miller Mirra chair. As a geek I used to think how many more megabytes or megapixels I could have gotten instead of "just a chair", but it has outlived several of my computers, and it's been absolutely good investment that literally saved my butt (and my spine).

And what software?

My computer usage is mainly on the command line. I use iTerm2, for lots of small reasons. I can click to open filenames printed in the terminal. I have shortcuts and color-coded backgrounds for remote servers. Notifications when a background job finishes. It does everything that the stock Terminal does, but a little bit better.

One thing I don't use command line for is git. I'm not going to type hashes — I'd rather click and drag things in GitX. It lets me commit fragments of code line-by-line and visualises history in its full branchy glory, without dumbing it down. I'm holding on to one specific dead fork of many dead forks of GitX-dev that I particularly like.

I used to be a devoted fan of the Opera browser, but sadly the good old browser is gone, and now the product and the company are just a shell of its former glory. I've tried Vivaldi, but it was too slow and buggy for me. Nowadays I'm using Firefox nightly. It's amazing how much Firefox has improved in v57. It's now pretty fast, and handles well my habit of leaving hundreds of tabs open instead of bookmarking anything.

I plan my work in OmniFocus (& Focus GTD on Android). It's the only serious app that does two things: 1) infinitely recursive todo lists (I break things down into smaller and smaller tasks, and don't want any arbitrary limits there) and 2) faithfully implements the Getting Things Done system. When I was starting my business I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of little things that have to be done, and I wouldn't be able to cope without GTD.

I've been programming in C for 17 years, but this year I've sucessfully switched to Rust. Rust has a steep learning curve, but it does deliver. The language, its compiler and package manager are rock solid. It's an amazing language. In some areas it feels higher-level than JavaScript, but it's still as close to the metal as C.

What would be your dream setup?

For the displays, all the cool new tech is already here. I'm just waiting for all of it to be brought together into one maximally awesome model.

OLED (where black is truly black) + HDR (where photographed lights appear as actually bright light, not merely a white patch) + 8K resolution (because why not?) in ultra-wide curved 21:9 format, so I can have the surface of a dual-monitor setup without the gap between them.

I like Apple's combination of hardware and software the best. I just wish they weren't so forgetful about the existence of their Mac product lines. macOS is still the most elegant and usable OS for me, but with every release (containing more and more restrictions, and bash deliberately not updated since 2007) I'm finding it harder and harder to be a supporter of macOS and open-source at the same time. The Mac App Store forbids all Free/Libre Software, so if they ever flip the switch to disable non-App-Store software, I'm out.


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Daniel Kibblesmith


Daniel Kibblesmith

Who are you, and what do you do?

Daniel Kibblesmith, writer for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, as well as comics writer (Valiant Comics, Heavy Metal, Various), and author/co-author of the humor books Santa's Husband and How To Win At Everything.

What hardware do you use?

At work: MacBook Air. At home: Smaller Macbook Air.

And what software?

For work we use Scripto, a collaborative realtime script and teleprompter software (developed by my friend Rob Dubbin, company co-founded by Stephen Colbert), also currently in use at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The President Show, and others.

For comics, I write primarily in Google Docs for saving, sharing, and storage convenience, although much of it starts by hand, usually in Pilot Precise V5 pens, currently in a crazy orange hardbound notebook I got as a Christmas gift from my parents (I think it's the Mead Cambridge Casebound Notebook No. 07102, but again, in orange for some reason). I also have a Walgreens in-house brand spiral memo pad I carry in my back pocket, after destroying two Moleskin knockoffs by slowly curving them to conform to the shape of my butt.

What would be your dream setup?

I think this is it, I'm good. But I did stay in a hotel over my honeymoon where they put a little tackle-box of coffee and scones outside your door before you woke up, so if I could add anything at this point, it'd be that.


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Jesse Ditson


Jesse Ditson

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Jesse Ditson – I grew up in Oregon and currently live in San Francisco.

I grew up in a creative family, and music was my first creative field. I was classically trained on cello starting at age 4, which made learning other instruments much easier.

Growing up my family had a 1984 Macintosh in the house, which was my first exposure to computers. There were 1 or 2 games on the floppies we had, and so once I got bored of them I realized I could program my own. This ended up being more fun than playing the games, and so I naturally drifted towards a career in tech.

In high school I got my first programming job through a work-study program, but had a bit of trouble and ended up leaving high school and mostly playing with punk bands and only writing code for fun until I was in my 20s, when I realized writing code paid a lot better and gave me much more flexibility than the jobs I was currently working.
I eventually participated in an event called StartupBus, which put me in contact with folks in Silicon Valley, and a few weeks after the event (in 2011), I moved to SF.

I now spend my days writing code for Attic Labs, and try to be as creative as possible with my evenings and weekends. I love learning things, which leads me down creative paths that include molding/casting, sewing, making music, DIY electronics, painting, and really anything else that helps me move things out of my head and in to the world.

What hardware do you use?

For computer work, I have a Jarvis standing desk at home with an LG 27MU88-W 27 inch monitor mounted to the desk with an arm, and a laptop stand on another arm. The USB-C port handles power, display, and acts as a USB hub, so when I'm using my work laptop (a 15" 2017 MacBook Pro), I just plug in one cord and everything works. When I'm working on music or side projects, I use my home laptop, which is a 2015 15" MacBook Pro.

At work, I use a 24" LG UltraFine 5K display, attached similarly via USB to my MacBook which sits on a Rain stand. I can't say I can tell the difference in quality between the two monitors, and I prefer the home setup slightly despite them being nearly identical.

I do a lot of mobile dev, so I keep a small stack of devices to test things on, and I usually carry two phones so I can dog-food both android and iOS apps. I currently use a Pixel for my Android and an iPhone 7+ for iOS.

Sometimes when I'm drawing or writing the MacBook is way too much of a tool (and illustrating on it is impossible), so I have a 2015 9.7" iPad Pro with the keyboard case and Pencil. It's really nice to be able to be creative without needing a whole computer-sized rig, and the Pencil is my favorite Apple product to come out in recent years. I've been using Wacom tablets and capacitive styluses for pretty much my whole life, and the latency and accuracy of the Pencil is only rivaled by crazy expensive rigs like the Cintiq.

Music is a big part of my work day, and to avoid plugging and unplugging (and because I do recording both at home and work), I have dedicated audio interfaces at home and work. At work I use a Behringer U-PHORIA UM2, which is a really compact 2×2 interface with just the basics. It feels cheap (and it is), but it does a great job. At home I use an Akai EIE Pro, which is a 4×4 and mostly just looks fantastic. I can't say it does anything special.

I leave a pair of open-back Sennheiser HD 598s at work – I've had them for 6 years and they are still incredibly comfortable (even with glasses on, wearing for 8-10 hours at a time) and sound amazing. The open back helps me not feel trapped in my headphones, and lets folks talk to me without shouting or waving. If I need alone time, I stay home.

At home, I don't use headphones, and instead use a pair of KRK ROKIT-5 studio monitors. I'm not sure they'll last much longer, which is unfortunate – but they were a floor model and they sound great, so I would consider re-buying the same model when they die.

If I need to isolate, I have a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones that pretty much block everything out. They're amazing for the $80 price tag, but I pretty much use them exclusively for tracking vocals, as they aren't super comfy to wear for long periods.

Since moving to SF have tried to avoid buying nice instruments since I so rarely have a chance to play them. My stripped down setup is:

  • Audio-Technica AT2035 condensor with a desk mount and pop filter.
  • An old MS-20 MIDI controller that they stopped making in the 90s.
  • An Akai MAX25.
  • An Ableton Push (v1).
  • An old 44-key Edirol for bigger keyboard parts.
  • A Teal Fender Squier Jaguar.
  • A pawn-shop bass that I bought when I lived in Philly and keep repairing for some reason.
  • A Yamaha APXT2 3/4 size acoustic/electric guitar – I love these tiny bodied acoustic guitars, they have kind of a dobro-like quality to them which is fun.
  • A Casio SK-5, which is hands down the best keyboard ever created.

For other projects, I keep around:

  • A tackle box full of breadboards, transistors, servos and arduino boards for when I need to build small electronics, along with a nice soldering rig and dremel.
  • Clay, 2-part expanding foam, liquid latex, hydrocal, cheese cloth, and silicon for casting and molding (usually just for masks around halloween). In SF I can pick up all this stuff at Douglas and Sturgess, along with any resins, buckets, and other accessories.
  • Various power tools and enough hex wrenches, tiny screwdrivers and ratchet sets to take pretty much anything apart and put it back together.
  • A giant collection of rattle cans, acrylics, paint brushes, and adhesives for work that usually involves paper.

And what software?

For code I mostly use iTerm2 and VS Code (recently moved to this from Atom, which I'm not regretting at all) – these modern Javascript IDEs are pretty incredible once you have them configured correctly, and I've even been finding myself using XCode a lot less for Objective-C and Swift unless I'm spinning up a new project.

Here are some productivity tools I use do as much for my code productivity as my IDEs do:

  • Alfred – especially when combined with Dash, this has all but replaced Finder for me. The clipboard history is also MVP for me.
  • CloudApp – I capture a lot of screen shots, mainly to share work with co-workers and to attach interaction demos to pull requests. This makes that whole process much much easier – I can make GIFs of anything on my screen with a hotkey.
  • 1Password – also combines incredibly well with Alfred, and helps me avoid password entropy or looking up and insecurely storing work-related passwords.

When I write, I use Medium, which is one of the better web apps ever created IMO.

For communication, I use Slack and Messages for conversations, and Astro for email. I can't say Astro is remarkably better than any other email client I've used, but it checks my boxes, which are: unified inbox, snooze, mobile client, and good hotkeys.

For video work, I mostly use After Effects. I don't usually work with any footage, so I rarely need to do much editing. When I do, I either do it on the command line with ffmpeg or with After Effects, but occasionally open up iMovie for dumb/simple projects.

When designing, I pretty much exclusively use Sketch, but sometimes I draw on my iPad with SketchBook Pro. I eventually vectorize pretty much everything. Lately some tools have emerged (Sketch2AE, bodymovin and Lottie) that have let me move back and forth between Sketch and AE easily, and then to export AE animations back to mobile & SVG/Canvas formats. This is a game changer for me, so I've lately been spending much more time than usual animating rather than writing code.

When making technical diagrams or wireframes, I usually use Google Drawings on desktop and Grafio on iPad. Sometimes before that I'll sketch stuff out with Paper by 53 (also on iPad), which feels like a whiteboard with quantization. It's really really good for rapidly getting ideas down.

For music, I mostly stay inside of Ableton Live and try to avoid using the computer as an input device as much as possible when composing. I used to use Reason a lot, which I liked because it felt much more like a physical device. Lately I've been trying to do my own sampling and sample design, which I'd say I'm still working on. Mainly this means I'm fucking around in Simpler until I give up and pull something from Splice.

The Push is a really great tool for avoiding using a mouse, and can for the most part replace your screen as well. When doing simpler tracking stuff I sometimes just use GarageBand, which is a really excellent tool that gets out of the way. I find that 90% of the time, that's all I'm looking for software to do.

What would be your dream setup?

For the most part, I think I already have it. If I lived in a different city I'd probably do a lot more work on the music setup and dedicate a lot more time to it. Most places I've lived in my life had drum kits in them, and lots of space for collecting and storing weird instruments. Not having that has made it difficult for me to record as much as I used to, which is still something I struggle with.

The obvious missing piece is a cello, which is also really painful not to have around. I'll likely buy one soon, but they are one of the most difficult objects to purchase, and every electric cello sounds like absolute garbage so it's hard to find something that isn't insanely expensive and fragile but also isn't terrible to listen to.

I've always fantasized about having an analog synth rig, and still may explore building out a rack and investing in some of the older synths that really shaped my views on music. I understand the amount of time it would take me to learn a rig like that though, and right now it's not something I can fit in. Maybe when I'm old.


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Amy Nguyen


Amy Nguyen

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Amy Nguyen and I'm an infrastructure software engineer. Right now, I work on the Stripe observability team, which is the team that helps others "see" what's going on with their systems. I used to do the same type of work at Pinterest, and before that, I was studying computer science (systems) and philosophy (ethics) in college. You could say I have a need to get to the root of everything, both in life and with servers. Outside of work, I love reading about self-improvement, cooking, and writing.

What hardware do you use?

For work, I just use what my company gives me. I have a 2017 15" MacBook Pro Retina with a Touch Bar (ugh), second monitor, an Anker ergonomic mouse, and an Apple Magic Keyboard. I used to have wrist pain when using the Apple trackpad (though I love the gestures), so I'm making a bigger effort to learn about ergonomics. I also have the Bose QuietComfort 35 noise cancelling headphones, which have been a game changer. I used to use the wired version, but I found myself getting tangled up in my bag straps all the time. Now I can comfortably sit on the train with no tangling! I love them so much that I might buy a second pair so I can keep one at work and one for home/commuting.

For personal stuff, I have a ThinkPad T430 from 2012. I didn't use it much once I started working at Pinterest, but now that I'm at a new job, I'm trying to train myself to make a bigger distinction between work tools and personal tools. So I'm back to the ancient ThinkPad when I'm at home. Some other electronics I consider important are my iPhone 6S Plus (obviously rose gold) and Kindle Paperwhite. I commute to work and like to alternate between reading and blowing through my phone's monthly data limit.

For non-electronic things I love, I always keep a notebook and pen at work. Right now, I'm using the Leuchtturm A5 dotted journal in navy blue and Muji 0.38mm black gel pen. I also loved the Cottonwood Arts dot matrix notebook and went through two of them. I switched to Leuchtturm for the cute colors and larger page size. My criteria for notebooks so far has been hardcover, dot grid, sturdy paper, and inner flap. I cry really easily (like, if I tell you the plot of a sad movie, I will start crying), so I use the inner flap to carry tissues around.

I know you probably weren't asking about this, but I feel like I would be doing a disservice to your audience if I didn't also mention that I have a phone mount on my bathroom mirror so I can watch videos while I brush my teeth. It's very important to me.

And what software?

I started using vim in college because I thought it would make people respect me. Now I use it because I have Stockholm syndrome and a sick .vimrc I can't abandon. Every few months, I think that I should try a modern editor like Sublime/Atom/IntelliJ/PyCharm etc., but I'm too entrenched to figure out all of my workflows in another IDE. Other than that, I use iTerm2 and tmux – I try to keep it no frills when it comes to development. I don't even remap my escape key to capslock. I love scm-breeze for making git easier – it adds some really great shortcuts and highlighting. The other application I want to give a shoutout to is Spectacle for Mac OS X window management. I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts and Spectacle is great for that.

On my ThinkPad, I'm still running Windows 7 and Ubuntu 12.10 (that's how old it is!). I'm not a big fan of either, but I needed both in college to get homework assignments done.

As for "serious" iOS apps, I use Chrome, Google Calendar (if it's not on my calendar, it's not happening), Gmail (I hated Inbox), Slack (I wish it was faster), LastPass, and Duo Mobile. I use Aviary for blurring out identifying info before posting photos online, which I think more people should be mindful of!

For everything else on my phone, I'm usually on Twitter, Reddit, the Kindle iOS app, Spotify (Premium, because I'm not a savage), Pinterest, Pocket, Hearthstone, Twitch, and YouTube. I use the Kindle iOS app whenever I have an expired library book on my Kindle. I put the Kindle in airplane mode so that the expired book doesn't disappear, and then I read another book on my phone. It's not a very sustainable system, but it's what I do.

One miscellaneous thing I want to share in case it helps other people: I just found out a week ago that there's an iOS/Android app for the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones called Bose Connect! It allows you to toggle noise canceling (which was not possible before) and customize some other settings. I'm really happy about this, because I hate being snuck up upon when I have headphones on.

What would be your dream setup?

takes deep breath I want an Amy-sized desk where my back is against a wall and there are potted plants everywhere, natural sunlight that doesn't directly shine in my face, a nearby water cooler, a bathroom on the same floor, and at least three cats at all times. Also Bluetooth headphones that understand how to never embarrass me at work and never run out of battery.

To explain: I'm too short for my desk/chair setup at my new job. When I put my desk at the lowest setting, it's still too tall for my arms to be parallel to the floor. If I raise my chair to the height where my arms would be parallel, my feet dangle. I really wish I had a desk that was just a few inches shorter – it would make a huge difference for all of my ergonomic pain. I'm looking into getting a footstool, but still figuring it out.

I keep accidentally playing loud music from my laptop because I forget to pause my music before turning off my headphones or some sort of Bluetooth weirdness happens to unpair my devices. Now my coworkers know how much I like Taylor Swift and anime music.

Some other miscellany: I wish I had an ergonomic mouse that wasn't so tall. I knock it over all the times when moving around my desk. I tend to switch between writing in my notebook, grabbing my cup of water, typing, and talking with my hands, so I knock my mouse over a few times every day. I'm sure I'm annoying my coworkers a lot. (It's either that, or the headphones, but I'm sure they hate me by now.) I'm also still on the hunt for my perfect notebook. I realized over the past few weeks that I want a notebook that can fold back on itself because I want to have more desk real estate. I don't like spiral notebooks because the pages fall out more easily, but that seems to be the only option. I'm open to suggestions!


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Matt Fitzgerald


Matt Fitzgerald

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a preacher, an essayist and a podcast host. I live in Chicago with my wife, who is a psychotherapist. We're joined by our three kids and Zeus, a pit bull mix. She kills rats. I serve the best liberal church, Saint Pauls UCC. I also write devotions that elicit outraged email from strangers.

What hardware do you use?

My beautiful bicycle was stolen, so I ride a Surly Karate Monkey with a gigantic Wald basket to visit hospitals and see people in their homes. I'd call myself a bicycle commuter, but I live in wonderful church housing less than 100 yards from Saint Pauls. To get there I walk down a rat infested alley. To kill the rats that get in our yard I use Zeus. To kill the rats in the alley I use a combination of glue traps and three feral cats, all of whom live at the church.

For computer hardware, I have a 2013 27 inch iMac, an iPhone 7 and an ancient, balky iMac at home. At the church I print to a Canon iR-Adv photocopier. It is as big as a small car. At home I print to a Brother I got on Amazon. I use a Blue Yeti mic for podcasting. I bought two of them, but I haven't been able to figure out how to run both simultaneously, so I've got an Audio Technica too.

I listen to a lot of music, both to put liturgies together and to energize or soothe myself. I sold all my records. At home I stream from my phone to vintage stereo receivers using Airport Expresses. We've got three of these set up throughout the house, they all run through an Airport Extreme.

At work I have a Razer Leviathan soundbar hooked to my iMac. During the workday I make coffee with an Aeropress.

And what software?

My office is gigantic, elegant, wood-paneled, old. Imagine the office Dumbledore would have if he were a senator. It's ridiculous. There are walls of built-in bookshelves that hold a large theological library. I use books every day, old school page turning. I have too many books because I once believed I could learn my way to God.

I write short, quick things in Word for Mac 14.7.3, Courier, 14 point font. If I need to start something I know I won't finish before dinner I write it in Google Docs so that I can open it at home or on my phone. I should switch to Google Docs exclusively, but I don't quite trust it. Not the security, the ether. But I use Google Calendar. The option to have it sound an alarm on my phone ten minutes before an appointment begins has saved my ass more than once.

I record podcasts with Audio Hijack. I love this program. It always works and is very simple. If my guest isn't in my office I use Skype with the video turned off. Video conferencing unnerves me. I make to-do lists with a Uni-Ball Signo and scrap paper. I talk to church members on a land-line phone, over email (when will it end?) and in text messages.

What would be your dream setup?

To be honest, I've got my dream setup. Maybe less email and a more reliable home computer. As a kid I wanted a stand-up architect desk that I could adjust at an angle, but why? I'm terrible at math.


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Tooba Rezaei


Tooba Rezaei

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Tooba Rezaei, and I'm a visual artist and animation artist. I've been working in the industry since 2003. I work both digitally and traditionally, and my work has been released in animated shorts, animated features, animation TV shows, games, books, and gallery shows in many different countries. The animated short I created and directed has received over twelve screenings worldwide alongside nominations and awards, and my fine art paintings have been included in over twenty solo and group shows. I have studied and worked in many different countries such as Iran, Holland and the USA.

Currently I live and work in Los Angeles.

What hardware do you use?

I alternately use a Mac and PC to do my work, and I'm very comfortable working with either of them.

I use mostly a Cintiq for illustrations and animation these days, but I can work with the simpler pen tablet that I used in the past. Of course, I also use traditional art hardware like pencils, paper, and paint to do my work. I enjoy using both types of creation tools, and try to use the ones that best fit the particular project I'm working on.

And what software?

When I started to work digitally, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator were the programs that I mainly worked with. But now I work with over ten software programs, such a Adobe After Effects, Autodesk Maya, Mudbox, SketchUp, ZBrush and more.

When I'm designing concepts after doing research, I start drawing a lot of thumbnails, I choose my favorite ones and I start to make them in 3D software programs such as SketchUp or Maya – sometimes I use both of them. I use these two programs to create the environment, and for my characters I use Mudbox, Maya and Zbrush. When I'm happy with the design and perspective, I paint it in Photoshop. Sometimes I start to work directly in Photoshop, skipping the 3D stage.

For my animation I use Photoshop, After Effects, Flash and sometimes Maya. For the editing part, beside After Effects, I use Premiere, Snagit and Camtasia.

What would be your dream setup?

On one side of my studio, I would like to have a Mac Pro with a large monitor and Cintiq tablet, with all the software programs I need. I'd love to have a nice north-facing window to look out of as I work on my computer as well.

On the other side of my studio, I would like to have all the equipment for doing traditional art. I'd like a big oak easel and shelves for all my art books all around the easel, so I could use them for reference very easily. A nice rolling wood taboret for my supplies with a palette in the top would also be a wonderful help.


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Aroon Karuna


Aroon Karuna

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Aroon Karuna. I'm an experimental musician and intellectual property attorney.

As an attorney I've been primarily preparing and prosecuting patent applications, with other forays into litigation, copyright, trademark, licensing, and more. My clients have lately been tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area (I live in Oakland). My background in computer science helps me understand and write about the software technologies I work with. I've also been patent counsel at multinational companies, specifically Wolfram Research and GE Healthcare.

As a musician I've gone by several names over the years, but primarily I've been recording and releasing albums under the name Vapor Lanes since 2008 ('vaporwave' incidentally became a thing around 2011; there may be some minor overlap, but my music doesn't really belong in the genre). My two full-length releases of note are Hieratic Teen, an album released as 12" vinyl under the Usonian label, and A Thin Film, released as a cassette under the Big Sleep label. Both are densely layered drone-ambient-noise works, and are still available in digital and physical formats. My next project will be much more sample-based, albeit sampling and mangling my own synths and drum machines and field recordings, rather than sampling others' works. It will likely be released under the name Winter Lanterns.

I tend to favor sounds that are drifting, disorienting, woozy, broken, gritty, lush, noisy, and lovely. I like programming synthesizers to sound like all of these things at once. Some of my music aims for that My Bloody Valentine quality – at lower volumes, it sounds ambient and hazy, and at higher volumes, it sounds massive and noisy. Ideal for arty horror films or atmospheric games (hit me up, I'm open for projects.)

Lately I've been working with the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, who commissioned me to compose pieces for their video materials and promos – here are a few examples of my work in that context. It's been exciting working with a group of people who encourage me to get weirder and stretch my boundaries.

What hardware do you use?

As an attorney: typically it's whatever my workplace's IT department has in store for me. When I'm given a choice, I prefer a MacBook and my trusty Samsung S7 Edge (voice recording of interviews, checking email, etc.) I also use a Hobonichi Weeks planner. As some patent examiners are old school, I still use a fax machine sometimes.

As a musician: I use a Heath & Allen ZED-12FX for mixing my various bits of gear and recording them via USB into the computer. I don't have any studio monitors, since I'm sensitive to working in an apartment building that transmits sound like crazy. Instead I do all of my monitoring with a pair of Grado SR325s. They may not be the definitive 'flat-sounding' professional studio headphones that you're supposed to use, but they've got an extremely pleasing and richly detailed sound, and that matters more to me. In travel and non-studio situations I like Master & Dynamic ME05 in-ears.

I started out strictly using software since it was all I could afford as a student, but after purchasing my first dedicated hardware synthesizer in 2008 (the Dave Smith Poly Evolver), there was no turning back. I know many people swear that software sounds as good as hardware synths these days, but to my ears, really well-made hardware synths are capable of raw, unpredictable, and lively sounds I can't coax out of any application. Just as important, they provide a tactility and instant hands-on immersion, allowing me to play and understand them like actual instruments with a minimum of menu navigation and fussiness. There's nothing inherently wrong with a powerful program that has a workflow similar to Excel, and I use such programs sometimes, but there's something to say about immediacy, muscle memory, and instrument proficiency. I'm also just deeply in love with the paradigm of modular synthesis – routing control voltage with a spaghetti mess of patch cables, instantly designing something complex, odd, and accident-happy. Real modulars, virtual modulars, mod matrices. Patch and see what happens as you go. Brilliant!

The main three pieces of gear in my setup at the moment:

  1. Arturia MatrixBrutethis interview with Marc Doty about his love for the MatrixBrute contains no hyperbole. This synthesizer was released in late 2016 and I have no doubt that it's one of the great classics of our time. As he says: "If you're interested in non-musical synthesis and sound design, you have a semi-modular system of complex functionality and interconnection that would rival, or even outdo, some of the studios of historical experimental synthesists!" This is the most exciting and immediately satisfying piece of gear I own at the moment (excluding my modular, maybe), and I haven't even scratched the surface of it yet.

  2. Dave Smith Prophet 12 – a modern polyphonic analog/digital hybrid that has vast sound-shaping capabilities. Anything on the synth can be routed to any modulation destination simply by holding down a button and twisting a knob of your choice, which makes this nearly as flexible of a semi-modular as the Matrixbrute, in its own ways. This is the go-to workhorse synth that I use, and the 12 voice polyphony combined with the rich sonic character means I can create dense, wide, evolving pads and drones.

  3. Modular synth – my eurorack modular is somewhat minimal, fits in a portable 2-row tolex suitcase, and currently looks something like this. I resisted going the modular route for a long time, even though I was fascinated with it, because I was concerned that it would be a bottomless money pit and that I would constantly expand it beyond all reason. But it turns out that I'm more satisfied with a small, useful curation of modules that I can really understand and explore with limitations and all. Like most people, I will probably swap out some modules that turned out to be less useful than I anticipated, and get some new ones that excite me in different ways. That's part of the fun.

  4. This modular synth has a Moog Mother-32 as its foundational module. It provides all the basic modules you'd want to start out with in top-notch Moog quality, including an oscillator, filter, envelope, mixer, LFO, sequencer, and keyboard, and provides 32 patch points that allow the instrument to really get experimental when combined with, say, a Make Noise MATHS. I've emphasized a "modular within modular" focus within my setup – the Qu-Bit Nebulae allows you to custom-load PureData and CSound patches you've designed, and the Patchblocks module allows you to load patches from a virtual modular environment. So the hardware modular itself contains software modular capabilities that extend it further, and then you can interface with a computer and use, say, Reaktor modules to get even deeper.

Other much-loved pieces of gear that I own and use:

  1. Elektron Machinedrum – modern classic drum machine. Elektron's signature parameter locks changed my musical life forever.

  2. Elektron Analog Four – a 4-voice analog synth that allows each voice to be programmed and sequenced separately. You can control and sequence your modular, too, and all with those glorious parameter locks.

  3. Teenage Engineering OP-1 – this looks like a kid's toy, but it's surprisingly deep and powerful, and sounds simply amazing. They've been constantly updating the firmware to add new synth engines, drum machines, and features since they first released it.

  4. Nord Modular G1 – the G1 comes in the form of a cute hardware synth with keyboard and knobs, but under the hood is a virtual modular that you can program on your computer. With a virtual modular, the only real limitation is processing power. So with the Nord Modular, you can create a modular synth of 50+ modules that all patch together in complex ways, and make it 4-voice polyphonic if you want. This translates to near-limitless sound design. The only downside is a distinctly digital rather than analog character, but it's a classic mid-90s Nord sound that has its own vintage appeal.

  5. Madrona Soundplane – this is a controller, but it's not a MIDI controller. Instead it's MPE, which means multidimensional polyphonic expression. It communicates across x, y, and z (or pressure) dimensions, all of which are assignable to various parameters of your software or hardware, and all of which respond to multiple touches on an individual basis (similar to polyphonic aftertouch). And it's especially fast, reactive, and expressive in ways that MIDI controllers aren't. It's also a beautiful instrument – a smooth walnut surface that feels great to play.

And what software?

As an attorney, I like OmniGraffle for creating patent figures. Google Patent is a godsend for no-nonsense searching and downloading of patent materials. I'm fairly boring and utilitarian – I use Microsoft Word for most of my work, even though it frustrates me more often than not. I'd use something nifty like WriteRoom or Scrivener, but ultimately I have to be able to use something that inventors, attorneys, and examiners also use, because I'm sending and receiving tracked changes on my documents. Word is the industry default.

As a musician, I started learning how to use music software in the 90s with Cakewalk Pro. I recorded my first album in 2000 using Sound Forge and FL Studio (then called FruityLoops). I discovered the power of VST plugins shortly after, then Ableton Live around 2004. Live really changed everything for me, and for the electronic music world in general, I think. So at the moment I record all of my hardware into Live, process the individual tracks with a mixture of Live's built-in plugins and third-party VSTs, and mix and master inside of Live as well. Then I'll also sequence software instruments in Live. Finally, I'll "play" Live while recording to spontaneously modify effects and routings in real time. The main part of my computer workflow outside of the Live environment is Audacity, a free, open source program I use for sample editing.

My other favorite software:

  1. Native Instruments Reaktor – Reaktor always seemed cool, but relatively impenetrable to me. I wanted to learn it because it's such a powerful way to design sounds and instruments from scratch, but I never could find the time to sit down and really learn it over the course of months of study. With the release of Reaktor 6 in 2015, though, that all changed. The new Blocks system essentially puts a virtual eurorack modular in your laptop. It's very accessible if you've ever used a modular synth, and it sounds great. Plus, Reaktor users are constantly creating and sharing new modules and instruments based on the blocks – some interesting creations are a Music Thing Turing Machine recreation, a Buchla-inspired software modular, and Mark II-inspired serial music synth.

  2. Madrona Aalto – For my money, this is the best software plugin instrument ever made. It's got a west coast complex oscillator, vactrol emulation, and a generous "patch zone" for easily patching together various elements in a semi-modular fashion. It sounds as good as some of the hardware I've got, which is something I wouldn't be able to say about most plugin synths. Pairing this with the Madrona Soundplane controller, you've got a match made in heaven. A hardware controller designed from the ground up to play well with an amazing, unusual software instrument.

What would be your dream setup?

Pretty much what I've got now, I suppose! In the short term, I'm really looking for a powerful sampler – Elektron's Octatrack MKII is what I've been eyeing when I can set aside some funds for it. The Digitakt sampler is great too; I tried it out for a month, but decided it was so wonderful that I wanted the more extensive feature set of an Octatrack. Other neat-looking things I wouldn't mind trying out: the Volca FM, Organelle, Axoloti, Behringer D, and Deckard's Dream. I'm also waiting for a Soundplane eurorack module, which Randy of Madrona Labs is hard at work on. I'd like an updated version of the Nord Modular, maybe in eurorack format, with extensive, programmable CV capabilities. I'd like some ice cream.

Rather than more stuff, though, I'd simply like more time – more time to learn PureData, dig further into the Nord Modular software, build instruments with Reaktor, bliss out on my hardware modular, and understand the MatrixBrute on an intuitive level. And simply, more time to just play and record and experiment, in whatever form is available to me. In the end, it's all about exploration and expression, and I value every bit of time I can spare towards that.


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Victor Thompson


Victor Thompson

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Victor Thompson, a freelance programmer for games. Recently, I've also been building input devices and enclosures for games that will be installed or displayed in public locations.

My most recent (and current) work has been engine programming for the recently-released West of Loathing. It's been a bit daunting for me to come from an earlier career working with teams of programmers, and now be the only person writing and repairing the engine code for the games I work on.

Zach Johnson (no relation to West of Loathing's Zack Johnson) and I built and maintain the Donutron, a free public multi-game arcade cabinet. We created it specifically as a place to showcase locally-made games, usually projects that might go unfinished or aren't intended for commercial release. I won't go into ALL of the motivation behind it here, but feel free to ask about it if you meet me sometime. It's a whole thing.

I'm also half of the team that created Please Stand By. With other half Jerry Belich, we made a series of themed puzzle-like interactions that are played using the controls built into the vintage television cabinet that is showing the game.

What hardware do you use?

I'm currently writing on my main development computer, a 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro. It's a little under-powered for some software, but that keeps me from pushing the processing and graphics needs of West of Loathing beyond our minimum system requirements. I also like that I can carry it around in a vary small backpack or shoulder bag, or fit it on a co-working table that already has a bunch of computers on it.

At home, I connect the laptop to a 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display, full-sized split keyboard, and Microsoft mouse. I got used to this desktop setup years ago, and it's still the most comfortable for me.

High-quality audio is not a huge thing for me, but I keep headphones on my desk for testing mixes and occasionally for blocking out sounds from the printer or the street below my window. The current pair is low-end enough that they didn't bother to print a model number on the product.

For testing games on other platforms, I have a tower PC that I built in either 2008 or 2009. It wasn't high-end then, and it's showing its age now. It has Windows 7 installed, and I boot into various flavors of Linux using a collection of USB memory sticks.

When I'm building a physical project (recent ones are an arcade deck for Joggernauts and an outdoor credenza), I use a combination of simple hand tools – hammer and chisel, an inexpensive block plane from Stanley – and electric tools – various corded drills, a portable table saw, a random-orbit sander. I'm very pleased by the quality of battery-powered hand tools these days, and the most-used tool in my shop is definitely my Hitachi impact driver. It's incredibly useful, runs for days on one battery charge, and cost me about half of what I paid for less-capable power drills five years ago.

For taking notes, minor project planning, and simple layout design, I like to have a whiteboard very close by my desk. There's a lot of problem-solving and task management that I get done on the whiteboard, because I've found that it doesn't go as fast if I try to do it in my head or in software. I think it's partly the rubber ducking effect and partly the fact that slowing my thoughts down to handwriting speed lets me understand each step on its own.

And what software?

Almost all of my computing happens under OS X. I've been using Unity for the last few years, for West of Loathing and for several other projects. This is a complete replacement of my setup five years ago, which was a Windows machine and various self-built game engines. I still write my own low-level code for a personal project here and there, but any time where I'm accountable to other people it seems unconscionable to take the extra time.

For editing code, I use Microsoft's VS Code almost exclusively. The integration of Code with the Unity engine really cemented that for me, as I was never comfortable using Unity's included editor, MonoDevelop. When I can't use VS Code (such as when I need to inspect giant JSON files), I fall back on Sublime Text 2.

There are very few minutes in the day when I'm not somehow available on Slack. I communicate with the West of Loathing team, other local gamedevs, and few other groups. Since we both use Slack a lot for our work, my partner and I created a team that we use to communicate during the day and move files around. It's the best thing since IRC.

I don't generally do physical design in software, but I have used SketchUp for, well, sketching. Mostly as a way of checking what rough size the project and its pieces should be. It still feels better to me to grab a ruler and a pencil and draw out or revise the design, and the vast majority of my designs live in my head.

What would be your dream setup?

For software work, I'd love to have an office space that's about 50% more sound-proof (I'm not sure if that's in decibels or some kind of normalized units). I think that my desk setup is acceptable, and my development environment desires are so changeable that I can't say if any existing products could improve it. If a new laptop would significantly improve the speed of stepping through code while debugging a Unity app, I'd like that.

For physical builds, I'd like to have a few more large machines, probably along with a bit more dedicated space. The basic machines would be a band saw, a drill press, and a thickness planer. For bonus points, add a prosumer-grade CNC setup like a ShopBot. Integrated collection for dust and fumes would go a long way toward making my shop area safer and more convenient. I'd also add a decently-outfitted electronics bay so I could make purpose-built devices out of cheaper components instead of using general-purpose devices that are sometimes only partly suited to my needs.

Alongside the things, applications, and processes I use, a huge part of what makes life either pleasant (or not) is the variety of work that's in front of me on a daily basis. Currently, let's say I spend 80% of my work time on the laptop, 10% planning at the whiteboard or on the phone, 5% in the shop, and 5% meandering while talking to myself. I'd love to be able to drop the laptop time to 60% and raise the shop time to 25%.


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