Karlee Esmailli


Karlee Esmailli

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Karlee Esmailli. I'm the Head of Accounts at Blackbox and Cards Against Humanity. I'm also a writer and video game degenerate.

What hardware do you use?

For work, I use a Mac and an iPhone, but I don't know what kind of Mac or iPhone!! Don't ask me!! I'm all about my bullet journals.

For fun, I adore the Womanizer Pro40 Sensual Pleasure Enhancer in Magenta and the Nintendo Switch.

And what software?

WORK STUFF
TO PREVENT ISIS FROM HACKING ME
FOR MY SMUTTY ART
  • Twine: Draft branching stories.
  • Discord: Chat with my artists.
  • Ren'Py: Visual novel software.
FOR BEING AN ADULT
  • YNAB: Budget, baby.
  • Headspace: Stop looking at your phone for 5 fucking minutes.
  • Aloe Bud: Self-care, but actually do it.
  • Wunderlist: To remind me when it's time to clip my cat's nails.
  • OurGroceries: What do you think? It's called "OurGroceries" 😉
  • Bitmoji: For casual conversations.
  • KIMOJI: For serious conversations.

What would be your dream setup?

I'd love to be left alone with my cat and boyfriend on top of a mountain. We'd have perfect fiber internet and each day a young child from the village would bring us fresh tomatoes and baguette and cheeses from the mountain cows. I'd write with a nice clacky keyboard.



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Holly Gramazio


Holly Gramazio

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Holly Gramazio. I'm a game designer – sometimes on my own, but usually as half of Matheson Marcault. I also direct Now Play This, which is an annual festival of experimental game design which runs at Somerset House as part of London Games Week.

What hardware do you use?

I have a MacBook Air from 2015; the trackpad is slightly broken so I also have a wired mouse that was lying around the house. My phone is an iPhone SE. I like 'em both, although the replacement screen on the phone can be a bit glitchy; I seem to drop phones a lot so it's not really worth getting anything but the cheapest replacement.

My work involves reading a lot, so I have a Kindle Oasis for that which I like so much. I do still read paper books but it's just so transformative to be able to not have to lug a backpack of twelve books around.

That said, I like paper! I ike sticking paper notes in notebooks, so I print a lot of stuff out on our HP ENVY 4504, and photocopy things on library photocopiers. I'm also doing a little bit of work with projectors at the moment, and using one I borrowed from a friend. It's one of those mysterious generic objects that don't seem to have a brand name or a visible manufacturer, but it has RD-804 written on the underside somewhere…

And what software?

I mostly write in TextWrangler and then copy things into Word or Pages. Digital games: mostly Twine (still 1 rather than 2) for writing-based work; for other things, Haxegon (a little Haxe game-making library) with Sublime Text 2. Slack for work chat.

Much less frequently: InDesign for print prep, though mostly Sophie (the other half of Matheson Marcault) does that; Audacity for sound editing; Phocus for image processing (Hasselblad's free image editing software, which you can use with any photos – just to be clear, I extremely don't own a Hasselblad).

Also, importantly: Freedom to turn off the bits of the internet that distract me.

My todo lists are all paper, and I need a new overengineered system every few months. At the moment I've got a tiny notebook that fits about 10 to-do items per page, and then when I've finished everything on a page I fold it in half so I can see which pages have things left – that helps to force me to finish the one or two things I've been putting off that are stopping me from declaring a page done. Before that I had a weekly grid where I allocated tasks to different days in advance and moved them around with arrows a lot, and before that I had a hex grid of clustered tasks. Basically anything overcomplicated that I can use to trick myself into procrastinating less for a month or two.

What would be your dream setup?

A nice big studio at the top of the house with good light and plenty of desk space and a little coffee machine in the corner. A projector I can connect to without cables. Someone on retainer to come in every month and swap out my newly-broken phone screen for a top-quality replacement.



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Sophie Haskins


Sophie Haskins

Who are you, and what do you do?

Ahoy there! I'm Sophie Haskins – I post hot takes on Twitter Dot Com, restore vintage workstations at pizzabox.computer, am a pink hair enthusiast, and work as an SRE at GitHub. Most of my professional work is centered around "building infrastructure that makes it easy to build reliable scalable software".

What hardware do you use?

I could tell you about my unsurprising work-from-home desktop setup (the only "surprising" thing is that I use a Windows PC – I had built it for playing four EVE Online sessions at once, so it just happens to be the most responsive/fastest computer in the house), but I suspect you'd all be more interested in the hardware I use with the Pizzabox Workstations. The important hardware in my toolbox is:

  • the literal toolbox – I have an iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit that has been invaluable. Its super high quality, has half a billion screwdriver bits, and tons of options for ways to poke inside cases to get them to open.
  • the SCSI2SD "hard drive" – most of my workstations were built with SCSI disks in mind. The remaining 50-pin SCSI drives out there are pretty old, largely used (rather than new-old-stock), and pricy. The SCSI2SD lets me skip the gamble on drive reliability and just use SD cards for storage. The configuration tool is a little clunky, using its advanced features (like acting as multiple devices at once) takes some custom setup, and figuring out the right settings for compatibility is tricky, but it's a LIFESAVER nonetheless. I have many of these in the various pizzaboxes.
  • a Sun 411 external SCSI enclosure & SCSI CD-ROM drive – setting up the SCSI2SD as a CD-ROM is tricky so this old-school caddy-loading drive is my workhorse for setting up OSes on the workstations. It supports the 512-byte block mode that some older models require (cough Sun). The enclosure pulls double-duty when I want to take an image of the initial state of drives in new boxes – I pull out the CD-ROM, put in the new drive, and connect them to my HP 712 for dumping (HP-UX seems most tolerant of drives w/o partition tables it likes).
  • a TP-LINK N300 mini wifi router in "client mode" lets me connect pizzaboxes directly to my home network without needing to run a really long cable all the way to my Ethernet switch. Another important tool for some of the boxes is an AUI-to-Twisted-Pair tranciever – lots of the pizzaboxes don't have RJ-45 ports onboard and need one of these to connect (sadly, I'm not aware of new ones being made, you have to get an old one on ebay).
  • a USB-Serial adapter – none of my modern computers have built-in serial ports, so I use one of these handy numbers. I've got an Airconsole LE that should make this wireless but I haven't put in the time to get used to how it works yet. Lots of the Pizzaboxes need weird peripherals to start up using their main console, so a serial console is super useful.
  • an Epiphan DVI2USB framegrabber lets me take video & screenshots without needing OS support for it on the pizzaboxes (or before such support would be loaded). The software for this is a bit finicky and I sometimes have a hard time getting fine-tuning of the image right but it's been really cool to be able to get high-quality videos of what's on-screen.
  • an old 4:3 monitor (mine is an NEC 1770NX – the framegrabber has a little bit too much lag to be comfortable to use directly as a screen – its much nicer to use a VGA monitor with the right aspect ratio with broad compatibility (this one supports most sync-on-green signals I've sent it). Its native resolution of 1280×1024 matches a lot of the CRTs the pizzaboxes would originally have used, too.

If "home lab" stuff is more your speed, I also spend a decent amount of time maintaining my home network and Kubernetes cluster that serves my websites (overbuilt much? :P). If that stuff is your jam, my setup is:

  • a 12U Tripp Lite Rack that sits in the corner of my living room.
  • a bunch of StarTech rack shelves and a simple rack PDU.
  • an EdgeRouter Lite and a EdgeSwitch Lite 24 from UBNT for core networking – they're really good stuff.
  • a couple of Intel NUCs (I have some a couple of NUC6i3SYK and a NUC6i5SYH.
  • a QNAP TS-231P NAS – real talk I don't have that much data to back up, but having a designated "network storage" box is super helpful. It also comes in handy with the pizzaboxes – they basically all are able to access at least the NAS's public NFS share.

And what software?

The software I use for the pizzabox restorations is:

  • Terra Term for a serial console.
  • Xming for setting up a remote X session from my desktop to pizzaboxes (in situations where I can't use the local console.)
  • The Internet Archive for archived software, manuals, and websites of long-gone hardware.
  • Bitsavers and Manx Docs have also been HUGELY helpful sources of documentation.
  • Microsoft OneNote for taking notes, collating research, and tracking progress on projects.
  • dd (in various incarnations) for taking an image of working drives, putting data on to the SCSI2SD, and setting up floppy disks.

For my home-lab stuff, I use:

  • Ubuntu 18.04 for the base OS on my NUCs as well as for most of the VMs that run on it. I use the built-in KVM-based uvtool for creating and managing VMs.
  • Kubernetes w/ kubeadm for setting up the Kube cluster.
  • cert-manager for setting up certificates in an automated fashion.
  • netboot.xyz handles PXE-booting on my network (it's suuuuuuuper dope.)

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would add to what I have now with:

  • a physical serial console (I love the DEC VT320.)
  • a physical X Terminal (mostly for the novelty of it.)
  • a wider variety of vintage CD-ROM and external hard disks to help with the more stubborn pizzaboxes.
  • furniture for both displaying and connecting the pizzaboxes to peripherals (maybe some sort of shelf where they'd all be wired going to a central console?
  • a more comfortable dedicated work-desk – right now I either put things on my normal desk and push aside my normal gear, or use a crappy table in the corner of my apt that isn't a great height and isn't near my comfy office chair.
  • a real lighting kit for taking photos / video of working on the pizzaboxes.
  • a convenient outdoor / well-ventilated indoor space for soldering and using contact cleaner / other noxious cleaning agents.



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Jane Solomon


Jane Solomon

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Jane Solomon. I work as a lexicographer at Dictionary.com (my official title is linguist-in-residence). I write and edit definitions for the site, and I work on other research projects like Word of the Year. I do a lot of media interviews as part of my job, so I often think about how to best communicate the work we do with the general public.

I'm also on the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, so I review emoji proposals that people submit. Did you know that anyone can submit an emoji proposal!? Many of these proposals later end up as official Unicode emoji codepoints. Sometimes I work on emoji projects for fun, like I looked at what emoji come before and after the gun emoji last year on my blog Lexical Items, and I recently built an emoji-sky generator on Glitch with some friends.

I'm currently writing a children's book called The Dictionary of Difficult Words coming out spelling bee season 2019 with Frances Lincoln. The very very talented Louise Lockhart is illustrating it. It's for kids ages 7+, but it's also for adults. It's kind of like a dictionary, but it only has really hard words that 7-year-olds wouldn't know. About 1/3 of the words will be new to most adults. I say "most" here because I've shown some of the pages to my lexicographer friends and they unsurprisingly have very big vocabularies. That said, I don't expect most people to be familiar with words like 'absquatulate' or 'moonbow.'

What hardware do you use?

I use a 2018 13" MacBook Pro for work and a 2015 13" MacBook Air for personal projects. I've got an iPhone 7. I promise this is not an Apple fansite.

At work I have an external monitor and a desk that allows me to stand or sit. I have the VerticalMouse (right hand) and a Magic Trackpad (left hand), which I use to switch between desktops. I find that that helps me focus.

The best hardware purchase of my life was a projector I bought almost five years ago. I've always hated the idea of having a living room that is arranged around a television – this way we just pull down the screen when we want to watch something, and it disappears when we're not using it. Home theater snobs will say you need to spend upwards of $2k to get a good projector, but this is simply not true. We found something in the $300-$500 range that we love and use all the time.

And what software?

I am a big fan of Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides (though Google Slides doesn't handle emoji well for presentations, so I end up having to take screen shots of the emoji I want – I give a lot of presentations about emoji). I use Slack for work, and I also always have Spotify open. I find their Discover Weekly playlist is usually pretty great. I am slightly creeped out by how well the suggestions are catered to my taste.

For social media, I'm pretty active on Twitter where I tend to stick to the topics of language and emoji. I've got a private Instagram account that's extremely boring, and a fake public Instagram account where I post from the perspective of an Insta influencer who lives a fabulous life and just happens to be an emoji. That's called Emoji Influencer. She loves doing make-up tutorials and taking photos of herself in front of murals. She also has a pet bunny named Greyscale.

What would be your dream setup?

Rose gold MacBook Pro.



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Molly Mary O’Brien


Molly Mary O'Brien

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Molly Mary O'Brien, a video producer and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. My full-time job is making videos for the health and wellness site Well+Good, but in my spare time I am always experimenting with making other video things. Documenting and sharing peoples' creative processes in video form is very satisfying to me; here's a short profile I made about visual storyteller Bianca Ng for a series I started called people making cool things. I'm also getting more into shooting performance-based stuff like music, dance and comedy. When I REALLY have extra brain space, I enjoy writing fiction. I like experimenting with formats and trying weird visual things — this is a short story I wrote in the form of a music festival poster.

I also co-host a biweekly podcast with my boyfriend Chris Wade called And Introducing, which is about "words about music," aka musician memoirs and biographies, criticism, interviews, and less-classifiable mediums (here's an episode we did with Hillary Benton about her investigative PowerPoint presentation about the hidden meaning of Lorde's album Melodrama). I do the pre-production and Chris engineers and edits each episode (and also composes the theme music for each).

What hardware do you use?

My computer is a 13" 2015 MacBook Air which is fine for cutting simple social videos but starts wheezing when I try to do anything with 4k footage. I only got into shooting + editing video last year and this machine needs an upgrade badly!

My camera is a Panasonic GH4 (great for beginners). I have a Rode VideoMic Go shotgun mic, a very cheap Amazon Basics tripod, and the LimoStudio softbox light kit, which is nice cost-effective lighting to have on hand. I also just got a Canon VIXIA R800 camcorder that I'm kind of obsessed with. I was weirdly inspired by Kylie Jenner's birth announcement video, some of which was shot with camcorders; it had a warmth and intimacy that I found fascinating, so I wanted to start making stuff with one.

I usually am several models of iPhone behind the current one and was rocking an iPhone 6 til this past April when I lost it at a mosh pit at Coachella — so I decided to treat myself to the 8+ in all its Portrait Mode glory. I had to get Jabra Move Bluetooth headphones to accommodate the 8+ because keeping track of that Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle suuuucks so wireless headphones it is. I use the Wirecutter for lots of my gear recommendations and they suggested the Jabras as an affordable option.

And what software?

I edit on Adobe Premiere Pro. I write most things, including podcast notes and fiction, on Google Docs, though I'm always on a futile search for The Perfect Minimal Word Processor. I use Gmail and Slack for work-related communication and dig Celtx for writing scripts. On my phone I use Instagram all the dang time, the Kindle app for reading library books on my phone, the TeuxDeux app (which is just my dream to-do list functionality, shoutout to Tina Roth Eisenberg for making that particular jam), Nike Training Club for workouts, and HUJI Cam for taking trendy-ass disposable camera looking pics (their tagline is "just like the year 1998"). I purposefully keep the Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone, and I do this thing where I put all my apps in one folder on the 2nd page of the homescreen so as to keep mindless app-tapping to a minimum. I learned this tactic, no joke, from googling "marie kondo your phone" and I actually love it.

Oh! I am very into the Golden Thread Tarot app. So well-designed, great for anyone who wants to dabble in the decks.

What would be your dream setup?

I think I've got it pretty good, and have been blessed with having enough money to acquire the gear to help further my creative pursuits. I am definitely eyeing a nicer desktop setup, like a 27" iMac, so I'm not constantly murdering my comp with high-res footage, and I'd love to eventually own some lav mics for documentary stuff. Other than that, just more hours in the day would be a nice setup.



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Jackie Luo


Jackie Luo

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Jackie Luo, and I'm a software engineer and photographer in San Francisco. I work at Square, and I was previously at Nylas, where I worked on Nylas N1, the open-source, extensible email client built on Electron and React. Before then, I studied philosophy at Columbia University.

I have a few personal projects that keep me occupied. First, I run IRL Society, a monthly event series for people looking for a different kind of social space. It gives me an outlet for event-planning – I've organized everything from blind wine tastings to readings nights to afternoon teas for women. I started The Framework Project, a series of conversations with people in tech about the tech industry and its impact on society. I write an irregularly published (really irregularly published) newsletter called The Dream Machine.

I shoot fashion photography – I have since I was fourteen – and organize photo shoots every month or so. I cook a lot and like to host elaborate dinner parties. I tweet too much.

A lot of my life is about finding a balance between making a big impact through my career and feeling interpersonally and creatively fulfilled. And, of course, the two aren't mutually exclusive, but I've found that chasing one at the expense of the other inevitably makes me less content.

What hardware do you use?

At home, I have an early 2015 MacBook Pro. In fact, I bought it in early 2017 – I really disliked the Touch Bar MacBook and decided to opt out of it. Unfortunately, not long after that, I got one for work anyway, so that's what I use during the day. Touch ID is nice; the battery life and the dongles are not.

I have an iPhone X, primarily for the camera. My "real" camera is a Canon 5D Mark II, which I got way back in high school. It works well for me, and I never saw a reason to upgrade, which is pretty shocking if you really think about it – it's probably the oldest hardware I own. I usually shoot with a 50mm f/1.4 lens and recently got a 17-40mm f/4 lens to have a wider-angle zoom lens in my arsenal.

Finally, this hardware isn't work-related, but it's a part of my Netflix binge setup, so it's super important – an Apple TV, an Epson Home Cinema 2040 projector, and a Bose Solo soundbar.

And what software?

Many people have heard me say it, but I love Notion dearly. I feel like I waited my whole life for a tool that works that well for me – it's flexible and powerful and beautiful, and I can plan my whole life (well, most of it) on it. The one place where it still falls short for me is spreadsheets, and for that I use Airtable. It's a spreadsheet that masks a lightweight database that comes with its own autogenerated API, ready to go, and I've found that invaluable more than once. For writing, I like to use iA Writer. It's just so easy and simple, and it helps me focus on what's important. I use Apple's native calendar and email apps, though I wouldn't hesitate to switch if I came by better tools. 1Password is great.

For development, I use iTerm and Sublime Text. I've tried a lot of different text editors and IDEs, but I just always came back to Sublime because it's so fast and so easy to use.

I use Adobe Creative Cloud for most of my creative work – Bridge and Photoshop for photography, InDesign for event planning. I really, truly wish I didn't need CC because it is so expensive… but, as it is, I haven't found a good replacement for the tools it provides, so here I am.

On iOS, I use Halide and Darkroom for taking pictures. I keep track of my period with Clue, and I keep track of everything else in my quantified self with Gyroscope. I am one of the dedicated last Swarm users out there (with a few important mayorships, I might add), and I am vehemently opposed to Venmo, so I convince as many people as possible to use Cash.

What would be your dream setup?

From a practical standpoint? I really like desktop computers, so I miss having an iMac. I've been dealing with worsening RSIs lately, too, so good ergonomic equipment would be nice! I am super jealous of the really cute (but really expensive!) Ergodox keyboards I've seen lately.

But if we're really dreaming – a big, spacious home with huge windows and lots of light and enough space to host dinner parties for, say, fifty people. Plants. An office with a reasonably sized desk and lots of bookshelves. A little photography studio. A kitchen with lots of counter space and shiny new appliances and beautiful dinnerware. A reading nook. A wine cellar. Maybe even a vineyard. The peace and quiet to do all of the projects I want to do.

I have a lot of dreams, and it feels like there's never enough time or money to make them happen to the fullest, but hopefully sometimes I can get pretty close.



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Sasha Burchuk


Sasha Burchuk

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Sasha Burchuk and last year I founded an interdisciplinary design studio called New Age Design Studio. The focus of the studio is a furniture product line and interior design.

What hardware do you use?

That's kind of a funny question because a lot of the hardware that I use actually comes from the hardware store! But if we are talking about computers (and not hinges and door pulls) then I actually use an old MacBook Air and a newer Lenovo IdeaPad. I prefer the intuitive navigation of Apple products, but the laptops just don't have enough processing power to run programs like Rhino and AutoCAD.

If we are talking about hinges and door pulls, I like to fabricate my own door pulls or source vintage ones from The Rebuilding Center. Most of my hinges come from Winks Hardware in Portland, Oregon.

I have three different work environments set up for building – one is a concrete workshop, one is a woodworking workshop, and then there are the digital fabrication facilities that I have access to.

I rely on various hand tools and machinery in the woodworking workshop – one of the nicest luxuries we have at our workshop currently is two Sawstop-brand table saws – one is set up for making rip cuts and the other is set up with a dado stack for cutting joinery. Other machinery in that workshop that I often use includes an old Delta 16" planer for planing glue ups, and a Bosch miter saw I check the thickness of every board I mill and the depth of every joint I cut with a pair of digital calipers (mine are made by Husky – but there are better brands). I use some more traditional hand tools as well, like bench chisels and marking gauges to lay out and cut joinery.

In the Concrete workshop the setup is more simple. We use bespoke metal form tables with vibrators attached to the bottom, various mixers of unknown age and origin, and a lot of grinding and wet processing tools.

On the digital fabrication side there is an Epilog Helix CNC laser.

And what software?

I try to avoid using software as much as I can because it really slows me down and hinders my creativity, but it is essential for precision and technical drawings.

I use InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator for branding-related collateral and asset creating. I've also used Illustrator to generate G-code for CNC lasering. With lesser success I've used CorelDRAW to do this as well. For drafting and modeling I mostly use Rhino – I'm currently learning AutoCAD so that I can start using it for interior design applications since it's the industry standard in the U.S. The two programs are extremely similar in spite of being written by different software companies – but I think Autodesk has tried to create more universal/intuitive products lately to get an edge. Before I knew AutoCAD I was making design intent drawings in Photoshop which was kind of ridiculous.

For moodboards I use Dropmark because I can't stand the performance issues that Pinterest has.

What would be your dream setup?

In my dream setup I actually have time and money to build out my studio and all three of these facilities are under one roof, instead of being located in different parts of town! I'd say that I am very well set up to do what I do all things considered and I feel very fortunate.



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Darcie Wilder


Darcie Wilder

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Darcie Wilder, I mostly I write and occupy space on the internet.

What hardware do you use?

I just use a 13-inch MacBook Pro that I bought last year. It's the first one I bought that isn't refurbished, I used to just buy any old computer. But last year I saw how thin and light computers had gotten while I had been lugging around this block of metal. I realized that investing in a better piece of equipment would allow me to get more work done in a freer way. Now I usually have my computer on me. I also have a Roost laptop stand, which I use with a spare bluetooth keyboard I have from college, which allows me to have a desktop setup when I need to feel grounded, otherwise I'm usually reclining somewhere typing into my computer, cozy.

Are notebooks hardware? I guess so? I use a spiral notebook in the morning for morning pages and a college ruled composition notebook otherwise. I've begun handwriting stuff over the past year, which has been really helpful for the way my brain works. I tried it years ago and my hand would cramp and I just couldn't do it, and I'm grateful that my brain has slowed down enough to be able to serenely write a sentence. And the regular Bic pens. I used to try to be fancy and get nice pens but I would never use them, as if they were better than me.

And what software?

I mostly live in Google Docs. I impulsively bought Scrivener a few years ago and was helpful for organizing pieces of writing, and I'll open it and try to commit but there's never longevity. I always end up back in Google Docs unfortunately, because I can open it on my phone when I'm walking my dog and tuck away files in folders that I'll never open again. I feel like I wish there was a change of interface though. But the problem I have with Scrivener, I feel, is maybe it's too hard to access, even when it's just opening an icon.

I also use Google Keep but it's a mess in there. For dumb memes I use PicsArt and Vidstitch. I used to make collages in Photoshop.

What would be your dream setup?

I feel pretty content, but I also always strive for sort of a barebones type thing, whether or not it works out. Like I don't know if I need Scrivener or the laptop stand – probably not. I think ultimately I dream of more quiet spaces.



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Finn Ellis


Finn Ellis

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello! I'm Finn. My pronouns are they/them. I'm an automation engineer on the desktop team at Slack, which means that rather than working on the app, I make it easier for other people to work on the app. Lately that's mostly been graphical test automation, which I'm either about to talk about at Node Summit or recently did, depending on when this interview gets published. When I'm at home, I like playing and making video games. I've submitted entries to the last two Ludum Dare jams, and I've published a couple of games that you can play in your browser on itch.io.

Some non-computery things about me: I have seventeen piercings and one tattoo. I'm a high school dropout, and I earned my degree in linguistics at thirty-one. I sing alto or tenor, depending on the piece. I used to be a Magic: the Gathering tournament judge (L2, US:NW). I collect stuffed animals but only in the sense that I occasionally buy one and adamantly refuse to ever get rid of any. I play a mean cribbage game.

What hardware do you use?

For work, I use a 15" MacBook Pro, which is the first Mac I've had since they looked like toasters. When I'm physically at my desk I plug it into an LG 27MU88 monitor, which I'm a fan of, because one cable gets me laptop power and all my peripherals in addition to the extra screen. I use a Kinesis Freestyle 2 split keyboard on the recommendation of a colleague who assessed the ergonomics of my desk setup. She also had me using a trackball for a couple of months, after which point I felt like I'd given it a fair shake and still hated it, so I'm back on the stock magic mouse, which is fine so far. For someone who's basically lived on a computer since adolescence, I've been pretty lucky about RSI, and I'm trying to keep it that way.

My computer at home is a second generation ThinkPad X1 Yoga. It was my new-job gift to myself last year and it's a treat: quick, light, fits in a purse, I can fold it into a tablet (the keyboard recesses!), and I use the touchscreen way more than I expected to, to the point that the MacBook's screen is also covered in fingerprints because I forget I can't do that. With the stylus it's fun for drawing, too, although the tablet-mode-friendly software options aren't great. Lenovo's spyware shenanigans are bullshit but I admit that I still love ThinkPads, mostly because they make a fine keyboard and I type like a bat out of hell.

In my pocket there's a Google Pixel 2 XL. I went with the Pixel because I like getting system updates in a timely manner, and the XL because it's a gaming and social media machine that I grudgingly make calls on. Plus it takes nice photos in good light, and usable photos in low light. There's a Popsocket on it, which I use mostly as a fulcrum to spin my phone on tables when I'm fidgety, but it's handy on public transit too.

I've almost never owned dedicated gaming hardware, including consoles, but I did pick up a Nintendo Switch a couple months ago. It feels silly to expound on why it's great when so much of last year's gaming press did that, but suffice it to say that the ease of switching modes between console and handheld or controller setups is very real and very good. Plus the game selection is a much better fit for my tastes than any other major console.

Quick shoutout here to USB-C – I use literally the same charging cable for everything I just named. (It's the Macbook's brick with a nine-foot Amazon Basics cable.) We nerds like to joke about standards proliferation, but man, when one actually sticks for a minute it's really convenient.

And what software?

I'm surprisingly ambivalent about work-oriented software, so long as it gets the job done. I don't even have strong opinions about operating systems. When I started this job, I asked my team, "Hey, what do you all use to edit code?" and they said VS Code, so I use VS Code. (I do use the vim keybindings, though.) I use VMWare Fusion for similar reasons. Chrome has been my default browser for a long time, originally because it was the one with separate user profiles, and these days because it already has all my stuff in it.

I spend a lot of time in Notes or Notepad (depending on OS), because any task or idea I don't remember to write down is gone and I don't care about fancy features in a scratchpad. This is actually the only reason I have an iCloud account; I realized that my Notes files were the one important thing I wouldn't be able to get back if my work laptop got stolen. (Well, that and the SDCC-exclusive Adventure Zone stickers.)

Oh, er, Slack, obviously. I'd dabbled with it before I worked there, for small projects or social groups, but it's been eye-opening to use it in the environment it was designed for, with the people who designed it.

For making games I use Pico-8, a low-fi virtual console with a great community. I like it because the narrow constraints force me to scale down to manageable ideas, and there's so little boilerplate that you can pretty much just write down what you want it to do and you're done. Basically, it's the fun parts of games programming without the dull parts, at the cost of only being able to do so much. I'd like to learn a modern engine just for the wider range of possibilities, but I keep getting intimidated by the learning curve for something I'm only doing for fun in the first place.

Some highlights from my phone, apart from the obligatory Twitbook: Tusky (a Mastodon client); Spotify and Pocket Casts for entertainment; NextBus, Lyft, and Weather Underground for when I'm going out; Caviar for when I'm not; and Wikipedia because I'm 100% the killjoy who will look up when that movie came out instead of letting you keep arguing about it. I haven't done as much mobile gaming since I got the Switch, but I've gotten back into Pokémon GO because they added social features, and Solitairica because … well, because it's still phenomenal. Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection is an early install for me on almost every new device I get; it's a big bundle of FOSS puzzle games that run on almost anything. I could write a whole article just about games on my phone so I'll cut myself off here, but ask me on Twitter if you want more recommendations!

On the Switch I'm deep in a Stardew Valley game right now, and slowly working my way through Celeste and Night in the Woods. I recently finished Golf Story and Yono and the Celestial Elephants, neither of which I'd heard of before buying the console, and I loved both. Some day I'll probably get around to playing the award-winning AAA Switch titles too (unless we get a new Animal Crossing game first, then all bets are off).

What would be your dream setup?

I'm embarrassingly unqualified to answer this. Until very recently I'd never had the kind of money where I could buy new hardware of any kind, and I'm not into browsing things I can't have, so I'm basically totally ignorant of the possibilities. If you gave me a blank check and said "Buy yourself new computer things," my first step would be turning around to my friends and asking "Hey who builds good gaming machines?" and then paying someone else to do the thinky part. I would be pickier about choosing a desk and a chair! I guess I could get a bunch of monitors? That's a thing nerds do, right? Probably a Wacom for drawing unless someone else has started making really good tablets since I last checked. And, like, an actual TV I could connect the Switch to. Maybe a nice keyboard. Er, I mean, piano keyboard, but, you know, the other thing too.

Long story short, I don't know. Check back in a year and I'll tell you what it turned out to be. Just don't be surprised if I'm still happily playing Switch games on the couch. I have modest tastes in technology.



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Gary Gale


Gary Gale

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi! I'm Gary. That's the easy part out of the way. What I do is somewhat more complex.

I'm a geotechnologist; which really means I lead and manage teams of really clever people who make software products that use geography,
geospatial data and location data. Or to put it another way, I do maps and stuff. If I had a penny for every time someone's said just put it on a map I'd be a very rich person.

I started out in the last millenium, as an operator (anyone remember 6250 density magtape?) and then as a programmer on DEC VAX minicomputers writing assembler and Fortran-77, then writing C and C++ on the various commercial flavours of UNIX (OSF/1, Solaris, Tru64 UNIX and AIX) before I ending up using Linux and macOS.

These days I still try and stay hands on, because I never want to stop learning and building things, but I'm more involved in the leadership and strategy sides of technology; after 2 years as a CTO, I've spent the last year as a roving consultant and am just about to start a new role as a CTO again.

What hardware do you use?

I haven't had a work desktop computer since 2006 as, for the past 12 odd years, my job has meant I've ended up working not only in an office but also, thanks to a combination of trains, planes and automobiles, in coffee shops, meeting rooms, conference venues and quite a few airport lounges. That means I rely on a laptop which is only infrequently plugged into an external monitor. And since 2006 that laptop has been a MacBook Pro, starting at the first generation no it's not a PowerBook G4 it just looks like one model up to 2016's fourth generation what is the touch bar for really model.

I'm going to pause here for a moment and reflect on the new MacBook Pro. I know it's easy to say things aren't built like they used to be but with the fourth generation model, Apple seem to have lost their way. It's not clear to me what's Pro about this model apart from a few more USB-C ports. I get that USB-C is possibly the future but the rest of the world hasn't caught up yet. I don't get that I can't upgrade the SSD or RAM once I've bought a new MacBook Pro. This model seems to be more about taking away rather than improving on previous models.

All my previous MacBook Pros have been reliable, rock solid and I've had one disk failure in all of that time, which I could and did swap out myself. I've even had one machine that survived around a meter and a half fall out of a rucksack onto a volcano in Iceland (it's a long story); granted, it had a few cracks and some interesting curves in the unibody, but it continued to be used day in, day out, for a further two years after that.

Maybe it's just bad luck but maybe it's telling that as I write this my fourth generation work horse is with my local Apple store having the keyboard, SSD and logic board replaced.

But when my machine does return and when I am sitting at a desk, it'll be plugged into the biggest monitor I can get away with, also plugged into a Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock with my backup drives and paired with a Magic Keyboard (with numeric keypad) and a Magic Mouse 2.

Lying close to my laptop or in my back pocket will be my iPhone 7, with the hope of an iPhone X coming along soon, and an iPad mini.

At home things are a little more … eclectic.

Sitting behind my ISP supplied cable modem is a Linksys 1900ACS that's been reflashed with DD-WRT. There's a Raspberry Pi running Pi-Hole which not only blocks ads and tracking across my LAN but also uses Cloudflare's encrypted DNS. There's another Pi sitting behind the main TV which acts as the media centre for our NAS thanks to OSMC plus an Amazon Fire TV Stick and an old Apple TV that I can't remember when we last used it. I should probably unplug that at some point. I'm also running yet another Pi, connected to an external GPS receiver, that's an NTP stratum 1 server for my LAN, just because I like building things like that. There's also a couple of TiVo boxes, many disk drives and wifi points and other technical ephemera. There's even a Windows 10 laptop that gets used for school homework; when it's not rebooting itself to install whatever today's urgent bug fix or software update is.

And what software?

On my iDevices I read books via Kindle, and my news via Flipboard, I also take notes via Penultimate and a stylus. I may even be guilty of playing the odd game occasionally, such as yet another tour around the wonders of Monument Valley. But I still keep an A4 pad in my bag for random scrawling, just in case.

On my Mac, I use Atom for editing, though can still drive Vim for those remote SSH sessions. I keep a range of browsers for testing, but Chrome is my usual browser of choice with the 1Password, Privacy Badger and Pocket plugins, but I might yet be lured back to Safari one day.

I use the command line, via a customised Mac Terminal app a lot and install software via Homebrew whenever I can.

For poking around with geospatial data I use gdal to convert data into something usable that doesn't require enterprise software to work with, which usually means GeoJSON. That also means I can try and make sense of the data with Elasticsearch and Kibana. For visualisation I use QGIS and if I want to share a map based visualisation online Leaflet has rarely let me down.

Not everything can run on OS X, sorry, macOS, so I tend to run a lot of virtual machines via VirtualBox and Vagrant. These are mainly Linux instances, either CentOS or Ubuntu, but there's also a Windows 10 VM there too for those times when I have no choice but to run enterprise software which insists on a legacy version of Internet Explorer or for ensuring that something runs as well on Windows as it does on a UNIX-a-like operating system.

Finally there's the usual tools of email, using my Mac's default Mail client, browsing, mostly using Chrome, and a copy of Office 365 for Mac. I much prefer Apple's Keynote for slide decks, though I have nothing against PowerPoint.

There's a lot more than this, including local Node, Python, Ruby, Go and PHP installs but I don't want to bore you to death.

What would be your dream setup?

After 12 years of living and working in places where a desk appears around 50% of the time I've learned to be pragmatic and if I can live without something for 3 months without going over the edge, then I probably don't really need it or it's not worth obsessing over.

But if I really had to dream it would look something like a third generation MacBook Pro, but with the ability to upgrade the components rather than being stuck with what you initially bought. It would have the latest and greatest set of ports but also support older hardware which still works well, so why should I have to buy a dongle or replace stuff? It would have the power of something akin to a Mac Pro but be lightweight enough to lug between offices and meetings without booking an appointment with the osteopath. It would be able to power multiple external monitors and wouldn't need a specialist docking station or half an hour of plugging stuff in followed by unplugging everything because there's another meeting I absolutely have to go to. And it would have onboard cellular data connectivity because free wifi is rarely around or reliable when you really need it (and no, tethering is not the same thing as that rarely works outside of my home coutry without paying eye watering sums of money for this). I'd happily trade Siri integration (I've never found the need) and the new touch bar for something like that.

Maybe I'm really talking about a Hackintosh but apparently there's laws and copyright that get in the way of that. Maybe we should fix the intellectual property and copyright laws instead? Or maybe that's too much dreaming for one day.



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