Emily Haasch


Emily Haasch

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm foremost a human, secondly an artist and finally a designer. I was born & raised in Chicago, made a stopover in San Francisco, and am now residing in NYC.

I led design at Cards Against Humanity, reimagined spaces for digital art at Electric Objects, and figured out new technologies at ustwo. I create editorial illustrations for a number of publications, including the New Yorker, Polygon, GOOD Magazine, Intercom, and Grand Circus.

I also raise marimos and do a lot of walking in my spare time.

What hardware do you use?

I tend to travel a lot, so everything has to be mobile to some extent.

I work on a 13" Apple Retina MacBook Pro, from 2015. I hate trackpads and especially hate Apple's mice, so I use a black Logitech M325 mouse instead. It's perfect for smallish hands, portable, and fairly indestructible.

I've had the same phone for the past 5 years, and just recently replaced it with.. almost the same phone. I pair it with a reliable Anker PowerCore 10000mAh external battery and Panasonic ErgoFit headphones, of which have a great sonic range for the price. Tossed in a cheap but durable backpack that I like to customize with my friends' artwork, they've traveled around the world with me in more airports than I can count.

When in the office, I sometimes work from an Apple Cinema Display, and use various devices (Apple Watch, Android phones, iPhones, Android Wear, VR headsets, etc.) to test with, depending on the project. For my collages, I scan them via a CanoScan LiDE 120. At home, I rely on a Motorola SBG6580 modem / router & TP-Link AV500 extender to extract the life-giving forces of Internet out of my apartment's Internet-Hole.

Finally, when stressed about design projects, I burn sage.

And what software?

I like to keep things basic, and don't believe in superfluous or crazy-expensive software setups unless necessary. That having said, my work setups can flex based on employer or client, but here's a general overview.

On the personal end, I use LastPass as a password manager in addition to standard best practices. I'm also a heavy Tweetbot, iMessage, and Slack user. I listen to podcasts at night via Overcast.

I create product design work primarily in Sketch, with iconography and general vector illustration in Adobe Illustrator. Animation and prototyping are variable based on context / platform, but I've used Flinto, Marvel, and others in the past and have liked them well enough. Professionally, a lot of my working files are stored and shared via Google Drive. Within a technical context, I write code in Atom, push it to repos via the command line, and QA builds via HockeyApp. Fonts are accessed through FontExplorer and certain projects are managed via Trello.

For my practice as an artist, it's all IRL / analog. Pieces are usually touched up in Photoshop afterwards to remove dust and adjust color grading for a digital screen. Work is stored via Dropbox. I host and promote most of my work via Instagram. I've been getting back into using Are.na for exploration and documenting taste. Finally, I record invoices and track cash flow via Harvest.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would be to have both a quiet studio overlooking a foggy beach, and a more responsible American president.


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John Adams


John Adams

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is John Adams, and I am a security researcher, sound designer, videographer/photographer, and lover of electronics. I've been doing this since my dad showed me a working radio when I was young.

Most know me as @netik on Twitter, where I was employee 13. I spent many years building that place (security and operations) and these days I have switched over to spending my time on independent computer security research and putting more time into music production and electronics.

I spent my last year building the "Ides of DEF CON" badge with four friends. We built a videogame from scratch, including an RPG game engine, in which you could wear and fight people over the built-in packet radio. It's one of the most complex things I've ever built and our team was fantastic! We manufactured 225 of them and they were in very high demand at DEFCON, the world's largest hacker conference, this year.

In addition to all of this, I am on the advisory board of Open Technology Fund and I'm a speaker, fellow, and videographer for Odd Salon, a monthly talk series on odd things — "Expert Talks on Odd Topics. Odd Talks on everything else!"

What hardware do you use?

I've got a small recording studio at home. It consists of a large ProStation, on a desk manufactured by Omnirax. It's filled with quite a bit of audio production gear:

Computer wise, the main machine is:

There are also random office things here like an HP Officejet X476dw, the world's fastest inkjet printer.

A large A-Frame synthesizer rack from Jaspers (a German synth rack company) lives next to the desk. It currently holds five hardware synths:

..and a Samsung monitor.

Hiding under the desk is the land of the old school which doesn't get powered up much… Roland TB-303 acid bassline synthesizer. Oberheim Matrix 6R synth. Panasonic SV3200 DAT deck.

The second desk, behind me is a full electronics workstation for repair and rework. I built this desk over the last year while working with our team on the badge. That desk holds a large, grounded anti-static mat, and on that desk are large wooden shelves, custom made, holding:

  • Rigol DS1054Z digital oscilloscope
  • Weller WES51 soldering iron with many tips
  • Hakko FR-810 hot air station
  • Amscope 45X-90X stereo microscope on a boom stand
  • Fluke 179 multimeter and microscope/needle probes
  • HP Logic Analyzer
  • Tektronix 100Mhz Oscilloscope (analog)
  • A generic fume extractor
  • A generic bi-polar power supply unit
  • Various wires, chemicals, and replacement electronics parts in bins

The third area is a set of shelves which is our video department. It holds:

Then, there's a couch (actually a pull-out bed) for guests in case these sessions go too long.

My daily carry is a MacBook Pro, and sometimes if I'm traveling, I take an iPad which is mainly used for reading.

I nearly always carry the following: A pair of Ultimate Audio UE-7 headphones, a Sharpie, a roll of Board Tape (aka Artist's Tape), a Gerber Multitool, and a strong, bright flashlight. Batteries like many Eneloop AA's and a Mophie get me through my day.

And what software?

Daily software / security work:

Emacs (yes, still), gcc, OpenOCD, Burp proxy, Metasploit, Kali Linux, macOS, nmap, Wireshark, tcpdump, etc.

Music:

Video/Photo:

What would be your dream setup?

I think for the most part I'm there. There are a few more things I want but there's very little that I think I need to survive these days. The room is really, really excellent to work in. I could use some sound proofing / sound treatment in here, and I'd really like it if my HOA allows me to tear out the windows and install a roof deck, but hey, it's great in here.

If I could have anything in the world added to the studio it would be all of the early Roland x0x drum machines, a few BAE or Neve 1073 mic pres, and a collection of vintage Neumann microphones. I'll also always take more synthesizers, because you can't have enough of those.

If someone could invent the infinite storage disk drive with low-latency, I'll take one of those too.

I'd also like to get a 100MBit or better line from my house to the Internet. My current Internet connection is so slow, and I produce too much video to have a slow uplink.


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Dorian Taylor


Dorian Taylor

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Dorian Taylor, and my job is to clean up very specific kinds of messes. I've tried all sorts of florid and important-sounding job descriptions and concomitant titles, and at the end of the day they're not only pompous and alienating, but just plain inaccurate. I don't "design experiences"; I certainly don't "build products". I don't even really "architect information". I schlep entropy. I take the disorder I find in organizations and do my best to clean it up. In that way I'm more like a janitor than a designer, engineer, architect, strategist, management consultant, whatever.

Right now, I am particularly interested in the mess around cleaning up messes: meta-mess if you will. It has to do with the ostensible fact that the second a process touches a computer, it becomes an IT problem. In other words, we become preoccupied with whether we can solve the problem rather than what the problem even is. It becomes attractive, in organizations, to enter into arrangements that look like they clean up messes, but instead create bigger messes.

Of course, if you bleach the "technology" out of "information technology", you're left with "information", which exhibits properties that a reasonably shrewd person of any era can understand:

  • Is your model of the world both comprehensible and accurate?
  • Are you getting accurate and timely data that enables you to make decisions which lead to favourable outcomes (and avoid disfavourable ones)?
  • Do your business relationships reconcile with your model, and facilitate the collection and interpretation of information (and subsequently your ability to act on that information), or do they conflict with and/or inhibit these activities?
  • If the latter, how hard is it to get out of those relationships? (And presumably into more favourable ones?)

Knowledge is (leverage over) power, so disparities in knowledge mark disparities in power. The "tech industry" is really all about making people dependent on your own little vision of reality. I don't believe it has to be that way, though.

What hardware do you use?

I do a lot of work on ordinary photocopier paper with a BIC mechanical pencil. If I have to travel, I use a Moleskine. I have a thing I made called a "cell calendar" which is just a piece of Bristol board that represents a week's worth of cells — four-hour contiguous units of time in which the real thinking (and subsequent entropy-schlepping) gets done. When you subtract the irreducible maintenance time of sleep, food, hygiene and chores, I find you can max out on about three of these in a day. Emphasis on max out. When you're flying solo, the thing you consider to be your "actual job" only takes up a sliver of your waking life. With everything else going on, I'm lucky to get one of these in a day, and I might do a three-cell day only a handful of times a year.

Or by "hardware" did you mean "computers"?

I suppose it befits a self-described "entropy janitor" to use reclaimed e-waste. I have a hand-me-down MacBook of ambiguous vintage which I use as a front end to an old Dell I picked up from Free Geek for fifty bucks. That lives in a closet and runs all my work stuff, and I can connect to it from wherever, with whatever device I have on hand. My phone is some Android thing I bought off my little brother that's probably approaching 3 years old. About the only object containing a CPU I've bought new in the last eight years is the second-crappiest possible tablet I could buy, and that was only because I wanted a multi-touch control surface for a tool I was working on.

Computers have been "fast enough" to be serviceable for most contemporary needs for almost two decades. Three decades if you count pre-Internet uses. What's more (Moore?) is that the laws of physics have finally put a hard upper bound on megahertz, so now chip manufacturers are just stacking on cores. Okay, so let's say you've got the hulkingest monster twelve-core 3-gigahertz Xeon Mac Pro money can buy. Guaranteed eleven of those things are going to be sitting idle, and the twelfth is going to spike here and there when you apply a Photoshop filter or watch a llama video on YouTube. That's the CPU going NOP, NOP, NOP, times eleven and a half, three billion times a second.

If you're doing 3D or video compositing (and I suppose now, VR and/or AI) then I can see caring about hardware. The last time I did 3D was as a teenager on a 486, and I remember drooling over those $50,000 SGI Octanes that could render mesh in real time. Now that kind of thing is an OS effect – on phones no less – which is really what most of those CPU cycles are needed for these days. Oh, and games, I suppose, but I haven't played one of those in a while.

All that said, I suppose one of these days soon I'll get off my ass and buy some slick little MacBook Air in case I have to pull it out in front of a client – for the exact same reason a real estate agent drives a Mercedes.

And what software?

I suppose I should start with the OS: The computer I actually type into is always a Mac because it has the finish quality you can only get with commercial software, but is still properly POSIX and won't fuss over open-source stuff. The development server is always some Debian variant, because their stringent policy tends to produce a sane working environment, including a vastly superior packaging system. In my case the variant is Ubuntu, which is slightly less crunchy-granola than the original. Any router or firewall-like thing is always OpenBSD, because reasons. I've been running this hardware/OS configuration for about ten years now, and before then I would dual-boot Windows and Debian.

On top of that, there aren't really many "apps" I use. There was a period in my career in which I spent a lot of time with the Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign trifecta. I barely ever touch those these days. Most apps I use are commodity front-ends to standard protocols and data formats: Mail, iCal, etc. Consider my browser: I use Firefox, because I put the effort into tarting it up with add-ons, but in a pinch just about any other browser will do. I'm intentionally cultivating a non-committal stance toward apps. That's not to say the function of the app isn't important – it's often essential. It's the vendor I have no commitment to. This is deliberate.

There's probably one exception, and that's Emacs, the venerable text editor, wherein I actually do the work that pays me. Switching away from that would be a nightmare.

After my ménagerie of operating systems and relative paucity of apps, I actually write a lot of my own tools. I could list the whole stack but that isn't very interesting, so I'll just summarize the languages: Perl is still my daily driver; I've been writing in it since 1997. That said I am not averse to Python or Ruby for doing the same kind of, let's call it, "utility coding" work. I am also finding myself spending more and more time with R. For more organized "systems", I've recently been looking at Clojure. It's slick as hell. I expect to be fully weaponized in it by the end of the year.

As is the trend with most programming polyglots, I have a workable proficiency in about eight other languages, each waiting for its opportunity to get put to meaningful use. I also have preferences: I generally eschew anything Microsoft (like Visual Basic), anything that relies too heavily on JavaScript, and you could not pay me enough to touch PHP.

What would be your dream setup?

My "dream setup" doesn't exist. It could have existed – it did exist, in experimental form, almost fifty years ago. There's no reason in principle why it couldn't exist, but it seems to chafe against prevailing cultural values.

There's a philosophical debate that's been going on almost since the beginning, about what the role of the computer in society ought to be. It boils down to a question like, "Are computers supposed to do our thinking for us, or are they supposed to be dumb tools that help us think?"

It shouldn't really surprise anybody which is the majority position and which is the minority. There's something romantic – nay, eschatological – about artificial intelligence. The first thing people tried to get computers to do, after aiming nuclear missiles, was think. They're still trying. And they're sort of getting somewhere, and everybody oohs and aahs at the latest self-driving car or face-recognizing camera or sassy chatbot, but if you think about it, these represent the absolute basic understanding of "intelligence", artificial or otherwise.

Meanwhile, the property of computers that people have been harnessing to construct such baroque artifices for conducting elementary cognitive tasks has been available for direct use in the augmentation of complex human cognitive tasks, almost ever since Alan Turing cooked up the idea for his ticker tape machine.

What I mean is this: We human beings reason over conceptual entities, and the relations that bind them. When these structures get too big to hold in our heads all at once, we outsource them to a representational medium, such as paper. Then we can take our time to comprehend them. However, a two-dimensional plane such as a piece of paper is still extremely limited in its capacity for coherently representing a complex conceptual structure, unless you resort to more and more esoteric mathematical representations. Even then, you're still screwed if you have a lot of data.

Now: we can think of a Turing machine as a sort of mutant cousin to the film projector, and both as the logical successors to the zoetrope. The zoetrope, of course, is the toy for which you draw little pictures at set intervals along a strip of paper, then you put the paper into the zoetrope which is shaped like a large ring. Then you spin the zoetrope on its axis and peek through slits near the top edge, and you can see the pictures move. A zoetrope moves faster than our eyes can keep up, and can thus effectively take a multiple of (two dimensional) space and translate it into the dimension of time.

So this is what a computer does that's truly novel: A Turing machine (and by extension any computer based on the design, which currently is all of them) is doing the exact same thing, save for the fact that it uses symbols instead of images. It also has the feature that every "frame" has an address. This leads to a trick, where you can set the meaning of one frame to be the address of another. The net effect is, unlike a zoetrope which just runs in a loop, or a film projector which runs front to back, you have something which can jump around in from frame to frame in either direction, reuse segments of "film", and even rewrite the contents in situ. This is all while leveraging the same persistence-of-vision effect, essentially amortizing complexity over very small slices of time.

What that means is that you can represent conceptual structures which are much, much more complex than you ever could on a piece of paper, and you can manipulate those structures in milliseconds in ways that would take months or even years otherwise. And what that means is you could solve really complex problems – even ones that are too wacky to fob off to AI. We don't see people taking direct advantage of this capability very often though, unless it's for the purpose of making software, which, ironically, is either contorted one way, to pretend to be some technology that existed before computers, or another way, to pretend to be an intelligent agent. This, to me, has the air of obscurantist, dissimulative hocus-pocus.

I suppose that's really the issue for me: sovereignty. Every artifact embodies, in some way, the values of its creator. A shrinkwrapped app is basically a recording of its author saying "I want you to think about X the way I do. I want you to work the way I think you should." Even the developer-grade frameworks and languages I use to make my own software are opinionated, but at least I have the final say on which ones I use, and how the overall system behaves. Go a teeny bit farther in the AI direction, however, and the message is something like "we're not exactly sure how it works, but you should do what it says anyway." If you're going to do things that way, you could just as easily look for messages in chicken guts or something.

I understand that we live in an increasingly interdependent world. I'm okay with interdependence. What I'm not okay with is one-way dependence, on particular people, business entities, robots, whatever. I'm not espousing some form of digital survivalism, I just want to be able to pick who I deal with, and if it doesn't work out, I want to be able to pick somebody else – all the way up and down the stack. Proximately what that means is that I can get my data out, and if I can't find a replacement for some particular operation, I can make one. Ultimately what it means, then, is that I understand my "dream system" as well as I need to in order to be sovereign over it.

App/platform vendors don't want sovereigns, of course. Their entire business models are designed around creating dependents, and then it's wall-to-wall ads and behavioural data sold out the back alley, all day long. I don't view that as a conspiracy though, it's more like "econophysics". There just hasn't been a strong enough alternative yet.


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Cher Vincent


Cher Vincent

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi, I'm Cher Vincent. I'm an independent audio producer and the co-founder of Postloudness, a podcast collective for independent audio shows hosted by people of color, women, and/or queer identified folks. I also hosted the indie podcast Open Ended, with James T. Green, where two best friends blur the lines between fact and fiction, and host Gossip Girls, with Subi Shuh, where we discuss the CW show, Gossip Girl, from the perspective of two women of color.

What hardware do you use?

I record with a Tascam 4×4 and a Scarlett for my hosted shows in a studio space setting. In the field, I use a Zoom H5 and a Shure MV88 to capture everything from ambi in interesting places, subjects from ongoing projects, and conversations with people I meet in the world. In a pinch, I use my iPhone 6s for capturing audio, and I edit using a 11" MacBook Air. It's from 2011, and I put it through the ringer, but my buddy is my ride or die.

And what software?

I capture in-studio audio using GarageBand. I edit using Hindenburg, Reaper, and Pro Tools. I typically use Hindenburg for two-way interview audio. I use Reaper when I want to use a higher grade of mixing, and Pro Tools when I need to upgrade the condition of my audio, and create filters and soundscapes.

I have also used Sony Vegas for video/audio work, and would love to include more multimedia components to my work.

What would be your dream setup?

My current setup is nearly ideal. I work primarily at a co-working space that has two recording studios for flexibility with my needs. It's only once I leave the space, particularly at home, I wish I had a better setup, including a stronger MacBook, ideally a 15.4-inch MacBook Pro 2.2GHz Quad-core Intel i7 with Retina Display or an iMac 21.5-inch iMac 2.8GHz Quad-core Intel Core i5. I would also LOVE a microphone setup, ideally a Shure SM58.


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Janelle Shane


Janelle Shane

Who are you, and what do you do?

By day I'm a research scientist at a small R&D company. I do holographic and other kinds of liquid crystal laser beam steering.

In my spare time, I also train neural networks to generate entertaining nonsense. I run a blog at lewisandquark.tumblr.com where I've trained neural networks to generate paint colors, cookbook recipes, and even guinea pig names.

What hardware do you use?

I'm using a 2010 MacBook Pro, with big dents where I dropped it twice. The screen's once-round corner is now polygonal, and the case near the hard drive is now crumpled. The second impact disturbed the connections between the body and the screen, and produced weird teal stripes over everything. I tweaked the color balance until the stripes went away, and now the display looks normal except for everything that used to be black is now pulsating a deep demonic red. The battery life is approximately one hour, and maybe 15 minutes if I'm running a neural network. It's got a GPU, but it's too old to run CUDA, forcing me to do CPU-based computations instead. So I'm thinking of maybe getting a new laptop one of these years.

I now run bigger datasets on AWS (Amazon Web Services), but still prefer to run the smaller lists of names on the MacBook Pro.

And what software?

I do my work with recurrent neural networks, which are machine learning frameworks that can learn to imitate input datasets. Unlike traditional programming where a programmer figures out the rules and teaches them to the computer, with neural networks the programmer gives a dataset to the computer and tells it to figure out its own rules. The process is similar in many ways to how people learn – and the earliest neural networks were designed for studying the workings of biological brains.

The framework I started out on is a char-rnn (character-based recurrent neural network) programmed in Torch by Andrej Karpathy. I still use this a lot for the smaller datasets, because I like how simple it is to sample from old checkpoints, or to change the temperature during sampling, and it's lightweight enough to run on the 2010 Macbook Pro's CPU.

For bigger datasets, I like the TensorFlow-based char-rnn that Chen Liang has implemented. It can take advantage of the AWS's GPU acceleration, and what really sets it apart from the other tensorflow char-rnn implementations is its flexibility in letting me go back and look at earlier points in the neural network's learning process.

I've also been experimenting with the visual neural network framework by Prof. Mark Riedl of Georgia Tech.

What would be your dream setup?

One day, I'd like to have a MacBook Pro for everyday use and a cheap Linux machine with a decent GPU at home to run calculations. AWS is handy, but I always have to remember to shut down my session after my calculations are done. An iPad would be nice to use as a lab notebook, but it would make an even better travel computer if it could run regular programs like the Surface Pro can. Maybe one of these days.


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Sam Kottler


Sam Kottler

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Sam Kottler, a systems engineer based in New York City. I work at GitHub as an engineering manager on the site reliability engineering team, focused on our data centers. Before GitHub I led platform engineering at DigitalOcean, wrote systems management software at Red Hat, and was an early engineer at Venmo.

Outside of work I enjoy traveling and spend a lot of time on airplanes.

What hardware do you use?

My main machine is (surprise!) a 13" Retina MacBook Pro. It's my second one and it's by far the best computer I've ever owned. The weight to peformance is tough to beat. I use an iPhone 7 too.

A few months ago I built a desktop for the first time in a while. It's got an AMD Ryzen processor, 64GB of memory, and a ridiculously fast m.2 NVMe device.

My unexpectedly favorite piece of hardware recently is a 10.5" iPad Pro. I never thought I'd be able to be so productive on a device I perceived as so limited, but it's turned out to be super useful for writing, planning, sending emails, and talking on Slack.

I listen to music constantly and have had a few pairs of Bose noise canceling headphones over the past 10 or so years. Right now I'm using the QC35s and they're fantastic. At home I've got a few Sonos speakers in my tiny apartment, including a pair in stereo wrapping my desk.

Since 2010 I've used a Mission Workshop backpack almost exclusively. It's been to five continents with me, including a 9 month trip around the world in 2013-2014, and is still going strong. I've tried other bags, but always come back to this one. I tend to travel as light as possible so often end up going on trips for up to a week with just the backpack. When I need more room I've got an Away rolling carry on. It's a recent addition and I've been digging it so far.

And what software?

I don't customize macOS too heavily and use iTerm with bash. For text editing I use vim, listen to music on Spotify, and browse the web with Chrome. I'm a near-obsessive note taker and heavily rely on OneNote across my iPad, laptop, and desktop.

My desktop runs Windows 10 with the Linux subsystem along with most of the same apps I use on macOS.

I spend a lot of time on Slack for work, talking with friends, and collaborating with folks on open source projects. I'm increasingly unhappy with the demands it puts on my time, how it has adapted chat from a best-effort ephemeral medium into something more like email, and the lack of federation. Lots of people dislike email, but I never found it burdensome in the same way realtime chat has become.

What would be your dream setup?

I've got something pretty close to a dream setup already, but here we go.

I want an operating system with the level of device support as Windows, the simplicity of macOS, and the flexibility of Linux. And I want that operating system to run on something like a very powerful iPad Pro.

Also, software that never crashes or has problems during runtime execution would be pretty cool.


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Naomi Wu


Naomi Wu

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Naomi Wu. I'm a maker, DIY and hardware enthusiast vlogging from Shenzhen, China.

What hardware do you use?

3D Printer: Flashforge Creator Pro upgraded with a Flexion extruder and PEI build surface.

Tools: Small drill press, circular miter saw, standard assortment of bench electronic and hand tools.

Computers: Whatever I can get second hand – right now a MacBook Pro, an ASUS netbook, an NEC ShieldPro and assorted random SBCs around the house for streaming audio, etc.

I actually use the little ASUS the most – it's old and cheap but fine for coding with a Cloud IDE, and I don't have to worry if I'm out working at a cafe and it gets stolen.

Cameras: Long-term loans or, like my computers, whatever's available used and in decent condition – Panasonic GF1, Nikon D5100, DJI Osmo Mobile, Hawkeye Firefly 8S, LG 360, Zoom H1 microphone.

My living room is my office and workshop, so I have a rolling workstation I can move out of the way to make more room.

And what software?

GIMP, Inkscape, LibreOffice, Tinkercad, OpenSCAD, Fusion 360, Simplify3D. I go back and forth between OS X, Windows and Linux Mint, with my preference being Mint.

The Grammarly plug-in has been an amazing help with all my online communication – English is my second language and I've never lived in an English speaking country, so it's challenging.

What would be your dream setup?

Something like a loft space? A laser cutter, small CNC machine, 3D printers, sewing machine. I'll sleep on a cot, I don't care! I'd love to have an Airbnb for makers and hardware developers coming to visit Shenzhen, a place with all the tools and equipment they need, on-site translation and ordering assistance to help them get anything they came here for. I'd use this to support classes teaching local women coding and fabrication skills.


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Helen Shewolfe Tseng


Helen Shewolfe Tseng

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Helen Shewolfe Tseng, and I am an artist, designer, and weird wolf witch. I co-host Astral Projection Radio Hour on BFF.fm with my friend Melissa, who I am also currently writing a book with.

What hardware do you use?

I split my time between working from home and traveling between various clients and collaborators, so having a minimal, lightweight setup is my main concern. I use a 13" Macbook Pro. I primarily draw with a Magic Mouse — I love that they're wireless and ultra-portable, and I've attempted various Wacom products but have always immediately hated all of the extra stuff you have to carry and plug in. I have a pink iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for sketching, but I still use pen and paper a ton — usually Muji recycled notebooks, Microns, Graph Gear 500 drafting pencils, Le Pens. I take photos and scan things with my iPhone 6S, which has one of my FUCK TRUMP cross stickers on it; strangers like to comment on it and I'll usually give them a sticker if they agree. And I always have headphones handy for music, podcasts, and signaling to people that I want to be left alone.

I keep a small home altar with things like candles, crystals, palo santo, sage, tarot cards, a coyote jawbone. There's a smoky occult supply den in San Francisco where I get these incense powders that are uncannily powerful for manifesting — be careful what you witch for. I like to start each day with a simple grounding ritual: burning something, drawing a tarot card, setting intentions, and visualizing my ego being brutally laid to rest.

And what software?

99% of the time, I'm making something in Illustrator. I make books and zines in InDesign and pixel art in Photoshop. I use Google Drive for writing, collaboration, bookkeeping, research, mood boards, presentations, radio notes, and Dropbox for syncing and sharing files. Spotify for music and collaborative playlists for my radio show. Signal for top secret group texts, e.g. one with my friends Jenny Odell and Joe Veix that's mostly animal memes and weird internet detritus. I recently traded the New York Times crossword app for Memrise, a language-learning app, for when I want nothing more than to idly paw at my phone and be rewarded with pleasing sound effects. But my softest pal is my log-shaped cat who blobs around my apartment absorbing my excess anxiety. I love you, Roo!

What would be your dream setup?

Somewhere tucked away in the folds of spacetime, there is a parallel dimension where my work can be conjured into existence via soothing activities such as wandering through otherworldly landscapes, taking extremely long showers, howling into the void, or allowing my cat to lie across my keyboard for as long as she pleases while I attend to my other needs.


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Joe Grand


Joe Grand

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Joe Grand, aka Kingpin. I'm a computer engineer, hardware hacker, product designer, teacher, advisor, runner, daddy, honorary doctor, TV host, member of legendary hacker group L0pht Heavy Industries, and the proprietor of Grand Idea Studio.

Most of my life revolves around creating, exploring, and manipulating electronic systems. I specialize in the reverse engineering and security analysis of hardware products and enjoy teaching others about how products can be forced into doing things they weren't designed to do. I also enjoy inventing my own products to share with the world, sometimes useful, practical things and sometimes ridiculous, goofy things, depending on my mood.

What hardware do you use?

My main machine is a 15" MacBook Pro. I'm often on the move, sharing my physical location between my lab, house, hotels, and classrooms. I have an aversion to intentionally storing my data on other people's computers ("the cloud"), so I've traded the power of a desktop machine for the portability of a laptop and the convenience of having access to everything I need no matter where I am.

My primary analysis tool is the Agilent DSO7054A digital storage oscilloscope. Nothing beats being able to see what electrical signals are actually doing at a given point in time, especially if you're trying to figure out how a system is operating or why it isn't. For listening in on and decoding communications between components or subsystems within a product, I use a Saleae Logic Pro 8 logic analyzer. My Fluke 287 multimeter and HP E3630A triple-output DC power supply are also constant companions.

At my workbench, I use a Metcal MX-500P soldering system and Vision Engineering Mantis Elite stereo inspection microscope. For rework and parts scavenging, I'll choose between a Weller WHA900 hot air station, Hakko FR-300 desoldering tool, or Chip Quik SMD removal alloy, depending on the target component's package type and location. For extracting data from and programming data into microcontrollers and memory devices, I rely on my Xeltek SuperPro 501S universal device programmer.

For hacking on and exploring embedded systems, I use a variety of electronic modules and platforms like the Propeller, BASIC Stamp, Arduino, and BeagleBone. I also use a whole bunch of tools built by hackers for hackers including the JTAGulator, Bus Pirate, Bus Blaster, ChipWhisperer, and HackRF One.

For rapid prototyping and desktop manufacturing, I employ two main tools: A T- Tech QuickCircuit 5000 PCB prototyping system for creating circuit boards and a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic for 3D printing of project enclosures and tchotchkes.

And what software?

My primary operating system is macOS and I use the standard complement of provided applications, most often Mail, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, and TextEdit. I like staying in the native environment as much as possible, but use VMware Fusion to run Windows and Ubuntu when I need a sandbox to play in or to work with engineering software not supported by macOS.

I'm the most efficient when I focus on one task at a time, so I use Things to keep my to-do lists in order and to help plan my day.

Even though I generally work alone, there's something to be said for human interaction. Colloquy for IRC keeps me sane and in touch with many of my friends.

For schematic capture and circuit board layout, I use Altium Designer. I designed my first professional circuit board with Protel EasyTrax for DOS in 1996 and have followed the progression of the tool since then.

For version control and dealing with Git repositories, I use SourceTree coupled with Beyond Compare.

Depending on what I'm currently working on, I'll use other software tools like Microchip MPLAB IDE with XC8, CodeWarrior, Quartus Prime, OpenOCD, gdb, and/or IDA.

For video demonstrations of projects and products, I film with my iPhone 4 and edit with iMovie. I'm notoriously bad at video production and tend to be more concerned that the information gets conveyed properly than how good it ends up looking.

What would be your dream setup?

I've always wanted to have some sort of underground secret laboratory. I'm completely happy with the resources I have above ground, but a subterranean lair would be awesome.


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Nikki Lee


Nikki Lee

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Nikki. I'm a product manager and product strategist, which seems to mean that I spend most of my time talking to people.

I'm currently at 18F, a digital services consultancy that works with federal agencies to successfully deliver efficient, easy-to-use digital services. I bounce between coaching agency staff on product management, management and organization consulting, and building software — whatever it takes to get my clients unstuck. At my last job, I was a PM at Microsoft, where I worked on Windows Ink. I also own a lot of Microsoft peripherals, because I had a sweet employee discount when I worked there.

I also do academic research, mostly focused on self-tracking. Because I'm a nerd.

Sometimes I write essays and build web things. Other times I play video games.

I'm sorry this is so many words. If you tweet at me I'll send you a cat picture to apologize.

What hardware do you use?

A sketch of a MacBook Pro, iPhone 6, ThinkPad Yoga, Google Pixel, a standing desk with a Dell XPS 8500 next to it, and Nikki's peripherals: personal and work keyboard/mouse setups, game controller, and an array of headphones.

Computers

At work I use a 13" MacBook Pro (pre Touch Bar) and iPhone 6. They have a certain amount of techie cred, but I resent both of these devices, and many of my coworkers have heard a variety of rants about the core interaction models of iOS and OS X. I love the virtual desktops functionality in OS X, but that's basically the only design choice I prefer to Windows.

We also have a bunch of Thunderbolt displays in our office. They're nice for extra real estate and the integrated cameras in the display are better positioned for video calls.

In my personal life, I spend most of my time on my Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga. The pen that came with this computer isn't great, so I scavenged a pen from an old X220T — it's a better size for my hands and actually has an eraser on it. Of course, there's no integrated storage for it, so I also acquired a Surface Pen Loop and stuck it on the side of my laptop. Whatever works, right?

I also have a desktop (a Dell XPS 8500), which I mostly use for gaming and listening to music. It's not particularly noteworthy in any direction.

My main phone is my Google Pixel, which I have been really impressed with. The camera is excellent, the fingerprint reader has been integrated brilliantly, and it's survived an embarrassing number of falls with only superficial damage.

Keyboards & mice

At work I use a Kinesis Freestyle2 keyboard and the most normal looking ergonomic mouse that was in the GSA catalog.

At home I use a Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and a Logitech M705 mouse.

Audio & video

My desktop is where my Denon AH-D7000s live, because it has an actual dedicated sound card. I received these headphones as a college graduation present, and I have gotten massive mileage out of them. They're by far my favorite.

When I'm lounging on the couch, I'll grab my SteelSeries Siberia V3 headphones. I don't worry about dropping them, banging them up, tweaking the cords, or spilling water on them, and they don't need an amp or sound card.

I almost always have my Denon AH-C50MASR earbuds with me when I leave the house. They're also my go-to for hopping on video calls or listening to music at work. Sometimes I'll grab my G-Cord earbuds if I need to jump on a call quickly, but they aren't great for listening to music. I also keep a pair of Windows branded Skullcandy Hesh 2 Wireless Headphones in my locker at work. They were our ship gift when Windows 10 launched, which sparked a series of rumors that we were all going to get moved from personal offices to an open work space.

I also get good mileage out of my JLab Epic2 wireless sport earbuds (for the gym) and my DUBS earplugs (for concerts and riding on BART).

Most video calls happen on my laptops, which have integrated webcams, but I also have a Lifecam Cinema on my desktop, just in case.

I, uh, seem to own a lot of headphones. I need to think about this.

Gaming

I snagged an Xbox Elite controller as a goodbye to Microsoft. It's fantastic, and I have no regrets about buying it. I also have a handful of standard Xbox One controllers for co-op gaming sessions with friends. They come in handy when I persuade people to have an office game night.

Pretty all of my gaming is on my PC, but I also have a New Nintendo 3DS XL, which is particularly great for travel. It is also by far the worst named product I have ever owned. Seriously Nintendo, what gives?

And what software?

Work

My job is all about communication, so I spend most of my time in Slack and the G Suite. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are all excellent collaboration tools, and I've learned how to make Google Slides about 75% as good as PowerPoint (the animations library and drawing tools are still far inferior, but the real-time collaboration almost makes up for it). Every now and then I'll download something into Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to share with a client. I don't usually do this because all of our branded templates document and slide templates are Google-first.

I also spend a fair amount of time whiteboarding and sticky noting in Mural. Their UX design isn't great, but their core value proposition is unmatched.

Video calls are a daily challenge. The Mac audio and video stack doesn't play well with Google Chrome and Hangouts, so I (like many of my coworkers) have a private appear.in room as a backup. We also use Zoom for organization-wide and team meetings and Adobe Connect when we're meeting with clients who can't access our other video calling tools. Federal and state agency software policies vary a lot, and it's important to have a lot of backup options so that we can still talk to them face-to-face. It's still better than traveling every week, though. I did that for a while and it really started to mess with my head.

All of our code goes on GitHub. Open source software and transparency are one of 18F's core values, and GitHub makes it really easy for us to live that value without disrupting our core workflows. I don't usually write code at work, but I occasionally have reason to crack open Sublime Text.

Task management mostly happens in Trello, although my experience is that people are pretty bad at checking task boards regularly unless the team has a strict stand up process. GitHub Issues really seem to be the most reliable thing besides people individually writing down and remembering their own tasks.

Research

My research team mostly uses Google Docs and Google Sheets to process data. We've also used Saturate for qualitative coding, which makes it really easy to divide work across many coders.

Our data collection usually depends on survey tools (our latest project used Google Forms) or custom built software.

Final papers are pretty much always written in Microsoft Word, because that's what conferences have standardized around. We've also gotten in the habit of publishing plain language writeups of our research on Medium. I'm not sure anybody reads them, but they're available. We tried.

Side projects

I can barely function without music. I pretty much always have Google Play Music running in the background while I work. They won my loyalty by offering me a forever discount, which is a pretty good incentive.

Plumbago is great for sketching out concepts, outlining essays, and thinking through things. Basically anything you would do with a paper notebook. I also use the Windows Ink Sketchpad as a scratch pad to work through problems and make quick doodles and diagrams. It also makes me feel good about myself, because it was one of the features I pitched, designed, and shipped. And it's actually useful!

Once I'm done outlining, I mostly write my essays directly in Medium's text editor. Nothing fancy there. I get all the images for my essays on Flickr (searching across Creative Commons licensed images, of course).

When I'm coding, I generally use Sublime Text (I even paid for a license!) and LiveReload. Most of my stuff is just simple HMTL/CSS/JavaScript, with jQuery to make DOM object manipulation less annoying. On the occasions when I do write backend code, I use Ruby on Rails and deploy my apps using Heroku. And of course, I keep everything on GitHub like a good tech worker should.

Sometimes I draw. I haven't found an art program that I really love yet, but Autodesk SketchBook is all right. I wish their pen and touch interaction model was handled better, and don't love the brush options they offer. Bamboo Paper and Bamboo Page (both by Wacom) have some really nice inking effects, especially their watercolor markers, but the apps are too limited for really good drawing. I'm considering trying to learn how to make Photoshop do what I want, but it's more likely that I'll just keep bouncing back to physical media. A sketchbook, pencil, and set of Copic sketching grays already gets me just about everything I want.

Gaming

Almost all of my PC games are managed via Steam.

When I stream, I use OBS Studio to capture and stream to Twitch. I'm not a very dedicated streamer, so I don't need any other plugins.

What would be your dream setup?

I would love to use a Surface Pro at work. In my time at Microsoft I used a Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book, and they were all excellent devices for the type of work I do.

They're lightweight, which was great when I was constantly running between meetings, and would be great now that I travel a lot. Having a pen would be killer for quickly explaining things to partners, especially when I'm on site in their offices (not all of them have whiteboards readily available). Having a touch display would be nice, too. I didn't need a mouse when I was using Surface devices because I didn't have to use the trackpad (which is rough on my wrist) for everything.

I'd love to have better collaborative whiteboarding and drawing software. People spend so much time describing in words what can be communicated much more quickly in sketches. I mostly work with folks who aren't in the same place as me, so we can't just grab a whiteboard and share ideas, which is really frustrating. If I had to guess, I'd say that the OneNote team is going to be the first to launch a really great solution to this problem.

An annotated photograph of a grey cat lying on a lighter grey blanket that says thanks for reading.


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