John Romero


John Romero

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello, I'm John Romero and I'm a game designer, programmer, level design, and audio engineer all rolled into one person. I work at my game company Romero Games Ltd. based in Galway, Ireland. I just finished a game called Gunman Taco Truck (desktop & mobile) and a game jam release named July 4, 1976. I'm currently working on a big multi-year game. I've been making games since 1979 and love what I do every day. It's the best job in the world. I work with my wife, Brenda, who has been in this industry since 1981.

What hardware do you use?

I've been using the same Mac Pro since it was released three years ago and it's still incredible. It's a 2013 Mac Pro (the black trashcan) with 8-core 3.0Ghz CPUs, 64GB 1866Mhz RAM, two FirePro D500 (3GB each), 1TB ePCI SSD, with two Thunderbolt monitors and one 4K monitor. I have 12TB RAID for huge storage, and Bose speakers.

I also use a PC with an AMD Ryzen 1800X, 64GB DDR4 3000Mhz RAM, 512GB SSD, 2TB SSHD, and Nvidia GTX 1070 (8GB) running Windows 10.

I have my 4K monitor hooked up to the PC, Mac Pro, and Switch console. I also use my iPhone 7 Plus when I'm not on my computers. I love Apple's ecosystem because iCloud keeps me updated constantly on my MacBook Air, iPhone, iPad, and Mac Pro all the time. When I change files on my desktop that's reflected on all my devices. I can even look at my desktop files from my iPhone because iCloud syncs it all. I love it.

And what software?

I use a ton of software. Here's a list: Xcode, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Sublime Text, Corona SDK, Unity, Final Cut Pro, Versions, Perforce, VMWare Fusion, Messages, REAPER, Transmit, Coda, Dropbox, Skype, Dashlane, Slack, Terminal, Assembla, Airmail, Spark Mail, Google Docs, Pixelmator, Pixen, TexturePacker, Particle Designer, Tiled, iTunes + Music + Match, Screenium, Steam, Twitter, Facebook.

When I have to use Excel, Word or PowerPoint I have an Office 365 subscription.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would be a new Mac Pro, since everything else is already part of my dream setup. Apple hasn't announced a date for the new Pro, so I'm just waiting. I have no complaints, however, because my Mac Pro feels as fast as day one because macOS is so well-designed. No registry.

Office-wise, we are located in city center Galway. That means we can walk for about two minutes and be right in the middle of town where there are a hundred food options. Galway is one of the friendliest towns in the world. We moved here in 2015 and plan to stay.


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Tara Mann


Tara Mann

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Tara Mann, I'm a designer at Basecamp, where I work on our iOS app. Previously I worked at Twitter and Science Inc in Los Angeles. I've been designing consumer-facing mobile apps since college, I love designing for that context. I'm also into comedy and writing, so I spend a lot of time doing those things as well.

What hardware do you use?

I've been an Apple person since I was a kid. I use a 13" MacBook Pro (late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports model) when I need a desktop computer. During a normal workday I'll dock my MacBook Pro to my Apple Thunderbolt display, but not always, sometimes it's nice to just work full-screen on a smaller display.

I use the 9.7" iPad Pro (silver, wifi, 128GB), along with the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. I was shocked how much these two accessories have changed my usage patterns, especially the Pencil. I now do all my design sketching on the iPad, putting together loose flows and UI ideas – it's the first iPad I have used almost everyday since getting it. For email and writing, the Smart Keyboard makes it super easy to multi-task (those keyboard shortcuts!) and actually feel productive. It takes the handcuffs off of iOS in some ways.

My most used piece of hardware is my iPhone 7 (Jet Black, 256GB). I use it for photos, videos, and tons of social media stuff. I also use it for working on random pieces of writing while I'm on the subway or in a coffee shop. I use Bose QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth headphones for when I want real noise cancellation or when I'm on a flight, and AirPods when I'm getting around town (I currently live in New York City). I read on a Kindle Oasis – it's small and light, my favorite Kindle so far.

And what software?

I do all my high fidelity design work in Sketch, and I'll bounce around various prototyping tools (there always seems to be a new kid on the block). I sketch a ton on my iPad using GoodNotes. I've tried many sketching apps and GoodNotes is perfect for my particular use case. I use Spotify for music and Overcast for podcasts. I mostly use Bear for notes – it's also a nice Markdown editor and allows you to sort of codify how you organize things. It's neat.

For project management I use Basecamp on Mac and iOS, so all my work stuff is in there. I use Tweetbot for Mac mostly, but I'll also check Twitter.com from time to time, mostly for group DMs. I use Pocket as my read-it-later service, which is helpful when I want to clean up my open tabs. I'm still trying to find the perfect writing software..

What would be your dream setup?

Honestly, probably more minimal than what I have now. Just an iPad with the Apple Pencil and my laptop would be totally fine. Once you start getting used to more and more accessories you think you need them. I think I'd be just as productive with less.


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Helen Zaltzman


Helen Zaltzman

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Helen Zaltzman, I am a podcaster. I host and produce The Allusionist and Answer Me This.

Answer Me This began in my living room in suburban London in January 2007. I had no idea what I was doing – I had barely heard of podcasts, I hadn't listened to any, I'd never edited audio or run a website before or done anything relevant to podcasting, except talking, which is hardly a unique qualification. Ten years later, the show is still going, to my great surprise and wonder. In January 2015 I began the Allusionist, with the Radiotopia collective. It's an entertainment show about linguistics. No, really. And it's the greatest job I've ever had in my life.

What hardware do you use?

13" MacBook Pro, a couple of years old, slightly dented. It is hardworn. The trackpad stopped working a couple of months ago and I need to work on my laptop too much to send it off for the requisite two weeks to get it fixed, so I'm using an external Magic Mouse because audio editing without sideways scroll induces fury.

I record into a Zoom H6 recorder, usually through Audio Technica AT897 shotgun mics, one for me, one for the interviewee. Audio equipment is mostly pretty boring to look at, so I have red, blue and green mic cables to cheer up all the grey and black.

The earphones I use while editing audio are Superlux HD-662, which are cheap but way better than any other kind I've tried for hearing every horrid little flaw in my edit. They are pretty uncomfortable to wear because they squeeze my head tightly, keeping all the audio in. This is useful in a way, because when I have them on, I'm not having fun; I know I have to work. It's hard to have fun or faff around wasting time when my head is in a clamp.

The earphones I favour for listening to podcasts are Skullcandy Jib noise-isolating earbuds. When I'm on trips to the USA I stock up on these at Target. In fact I bought five pairs in a Target in Palm Springs just recently. They're $10 a pop, which allows for my habit of losing or breaking a pair every three months or so, and I buy them in different colours to give me some sense of the passage of time. They're good for not letting noise seep out of my ears, because I'm not a sociopath and don't want to annoy whoever's sitting next to me on the train; and the sound quality is ideal for my podcast subscriptions. I've tried other earbuds, but they couldn't handle Roman Mars's perfect sonorous tones in 99% Invisible, so obviously they had to go.

iPad mini. My favourite gadget of all time. I read and write on it a lot, particularly when I have insomnia and am lying in bed in the dark not wanting to wake up my husband by cranking open my laptop or rustling book pages. I think I'm using an iPad mini 3, which should be a couple of years old now but on November 9th 2016, having woken up to the news that Donald Trump was to be president of the USA, I dropped it on the floor at airport security and the screen smashed to splinters. The Apple store replaced it for free with a new one of the same vintage, which was very decent of them given that it wasn't their fault that Trump made me break my iPad.

If you're talking really old-fashioned hardware: Leuchtturm 1917 medium hardcover is my choice of notebook. With dotted pages. Lines or a grid are too prescriptive for my requirements, but the dots are useful for keeping my writing straight AND sketching out patchwork designs. Current Leuchtturm: turquoise. All-time best Leuchtturm: orange, but sometimes you can't go back to where you were once happy, eh?

Mostly I write or draw in the Leuchtturm with pens I have stolen from hotel rooms.

I keep an Oxford Concise Dictionary to hand to choose the randomly selected word that appears at the end of every episode of the Allusionist, and a charity shop Boggle set for spelling out the name of each episode.

And what software?

I edit my shows on Logic Pro X. I kind of hate it, but it's partly my fault for being resistant to understanding it. I just want tech to work without having to devote any brainspace to it.

Izotope plugins – the Dialogue De-Noiser is actually magic. Trint to transcribe interviews – then you can click on a piece of the text and it'll play you that part of the sound file, or vice versa. It has saved me a lot of hours of typing this past year.

Ecamm Call Recorder for taping voicemails and interviews via Skype, Audio Hijack for other online audio-ripping.

When I'm interviewing people, I'm paranoid that my Zoom recording will conk out, so I record a backup on my phone, using iTalk. If you're looking for a simple recording app, this is it. It's just a big red button, and has never failed me.

I use Dictionary.com's app and website every day, for etymological research and for the invaluable thesaurus function when I'm writing anything.

I use Google Drive for writing, spreadsheets, presentation slides, creating graphics.. I've effectively dumped my whole brain in there. I am fond of a spreadsheet, particularly the shared spreadsheets in which my husband and I plan road trips. Planning a road trip is almost as good as going on the road trip. Well, not almost, but at least 15% as good. Definitely 90% more fun than the spreadsheets with which I keep track of my finances.

Pocket. I send dozens of articles to Pocket every day, so now there are several thousand articles in Pocket waiting for some mythical stretch when I will have time to read them. Retirement?

Similarly, my podcast app is stuffed full of thousands of shows I want to listen to but haven't yet, because I'm working on my own shows most of the time. Retirement is going to be GREAT. (Haha I'm never going to be able to retire.) I love to listen to podcasts when I'm walking or on public transport, or in the show now that my husband bought a Bluetooth shower speaker. I use the Apple Podcasts app, which is glitchy but I'm too far down that road to turn back now. I also listen with Overcast, specifically for the shows I have to listen to for my monthly Podclub, where my husband, three friends and I each choose an episode of a show that has not previously been Podclubbed about, then meet up for dinner to discuss them. Podclub is my favourite fixture.

Being a podcaster is a solitary existence much of the time, so Slack is where most of my social interaction takes place. The Radiotopians are a delightful bunch of people, but all scattered geographically, so we get to hang out on Slack more than in real life. Hrishikesh Hirway from Song Exploder and The West Wing Weekly is my regular late night Slack buddy. We're both insomniacs and work at appalling times of day (i.e. middle of the night), but him being awake at 3am in LA needing a second pair of ears on an episode he's finishing works fine when I'm in the UK and it's 11am. A couple of weeks ago, his Friday night pre-dinner entertainment was screen sharing with me trying to sort out a weird problem with the sound wave of my episode. It was 2am my time and I was desperate to get that episode done and released so I could go to bed. What a gent; thanks, Hrishi.

What would be your dream setup?

Having a job that is portable and allows/requires a lot of travel is pretty much my dream setup. I can carry all the equipment I really need in one bag: my microphones, Zoom, laptop. As long as I have a decent wifi connection, I can and do get my job done from hotels, Airbnbs, friends' couches, cafes, trains, museum cupboards, wherever..

That said: a couple of years ago I bought an amazing desk. It's a 1960s Danish piece, which at first glance looks like a boring teak cupboard. But when you open it – ta-da! Out slides a tabletop, drawers, shelves all around – and when you sit at it, it's like being in a little wooden room surrounded by my favourite dictionaries, toy dinosaurs, sewing equipment, microphones, all my stuff. Really it's a piece of furniture that represents the contents of my brain.

However. In the summer of 2016 my husband and I had to move out of the flat we'd been renting for ten years, and put all our possessions in storage while we figured out our next move. Fast forward through several kinds of tedious life bullshit, and nearly a year later we're still living in our temporary home of my brother's attic, with no new home yet, or even the prospect of one. We have no idea when we'll see our stuff again, or even in which city or country. It is OK, but I do miss the desk. My dream setup would be to park the desk discreetly in a corner of the 99% Invisible offices in beautiful downtown Oakland, California.


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Janet Echelman


Janet Echelman

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Janet Echelman. I'm an artist who makes soft, billowing sculpture at the scale of buildings​. They're choreographed by wind and light and shift from being an object you look at, to a living environment you can get lost in.

I started out as a painter based in Bali, Indonesia, where I studied ancient craft traditions and used them to address contemporary life and art.

After a decade painting, I went to India on a Fulbright​ and promised to give exhibitions around the country, so shipped my art supplies to begin work. When my paints went missing – ​I was forced to embrace unorthodox materials available in the local fishing village​, and began sculpting with fishing net methods​.​ This has led to some big surprises (including the Smithsonian​'s​ American Ingenuity Award, ​and ​​having Oprah ​put my art #1 on her "List of 50 Things That Make You Say Wow!"​). If you want the full story, I tell it in a TED talk ​called ​"Taking Imagination Seriously" ​which has now been translated into 35 languages​ and shared with millions.

What hardware do you use?

​I use ​an ​ultra-lightweight fiber ​(UHMWPE – Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) which is fifteen times stronger than steel, pound for pound. ​This is what tethered the Mars Rover, and it has enabled ​my sculpture to be so light that it can literally lace into​ a city's skyscrapers across streets and parks. I also use a fiber called PTFE (Poly-Tetra-Fluoro-Ethylene)​ which is used in astronaut's spacesuits and holds its color 100% against the sun's ultraviolet rays.​

And what software?

My art is designed with digital computer software ​that models each knot and twine segment, including its thickness, stiffness, and weight, and models it with the forces of gravity.

I also work with a tight-knit group of talented design colleagues in my studio, and an external team of brilliant aeronautical and mechanical engineers, lighting designers, computer scientists, architects, and industrial fabricators and artisans to make the artwork come to life.

What would be your dream setup?

My goal is to sculpt at the scale of the city, as a soft counterpoint to hard-edged buildings. I want to lace into the fabric of the city, attaching exclusively to pre-existing structures.


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Julia Evans


Julia Evans

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Julia Evans. I write a blog about programming, where I talk about how stuff works and occasionally post fun software I wrote (did you know how relational databases work? They use btrees! Here's why, and how it works! It's really cool!) I also draw zines to explains topics that I am especially excited about and make some comics/drawings which I usually post at @b0rk.

Basically I think a lot of explanations of programming stuff are both unnecessarily boring and unnecessarily complicated. Often it's possible to explain even complicated things like operating systems in a simple way! So I try to explain interesting stuff to other developers like me in a way that makes sense, without dumbing it down or leaving out the important technical parts.

I really like to figure out how computer things work. I work as a software engineer at Stripe.

What hardware do you use?

I have a ThinkPad X230 and I like it. My choices about what to type on are pretty boring. I don't own a monitor or a mouse or a keyboard.

But I have a story about hardware for comics! I started drawing comics one day because my wrists hurt and I couldn't blog. It turns out that they're a good way to explain stuff even if you can literally only draw stick figures like me so I kept doing it. I started out by drawing comics about computers in Sharpie on paper! That was fun, but it's hard to erase Sharpie and cleaning up the photos was too much work and I am pretty lazy. Today I use either a Samsung Galaxy Tab, or a Samsung Chromebook Plus. It took me a long time to find the tablet of my dreams — the iPad & Apple Pencil are beautiful, but also incredibly expensive and, well, they don't run Android. It turns out that Samsung makes cheap Android tablets that you can draw on! A Chromebook Plus is half the price, runs both Linux and Android apps, and lets me go from programming to drawing a comic about computer networking in 60 seconds! The stylus is laggier and less magical than the Apple Pencil but the software is so much more useful to me that I don't mind.

I keep my spices in 32 125ml Mason jars and my beans & grains in 18 larger jars. It makes me happy to see dozens of jars in my kitchen every day.

And what software?

I write my blog in the Hugo static site generator. I commissioned a theme for it from my amazing friend Lea (who works on programming 3D knitting machines!!). When I want someone to review my writing, I use Google Docs. I code in Sublime Text or vim, and use git for everything. I don't really keep backups and most of the stuff I really need day-to-day is on my public github anyway. My shell is fish and I run Ubuntu 16.04 with Unity. I write Python, Go, Ruby, and Rust mostly. I've been using Linux on my personal computer for 13 years now so I'm pretty attached to it. This year I set up wireless printing on Linux and it only took like 40 minutes! We truly live in the future of Linux on the desktop 🙂

And Twitter! Twitter is so fun! I can write a comic about how /proc works on Linux, post it on Twitter, and within 24 hours a whole bunch of people have learned a new thing. It's an amazing way to put ideas and blog posts out there out there and find out what people like and get some quick feedback about what makes sense and what doesn't.

My coding/writing software choices are all pretty boring at this point. When I was a teenager in 2004-2005 I would spend so much time configuring my latest favorite minimal window manager because I had a laptop with 64MB of RAM (which my mom got me!! My mom is awesome and I am so happy she bought me computers to do weird software stuff on!) and it really was not gonna run GNOME. I also used Hacked Links as a web browser because Firefox was too slow. Now I am tired of configuring software (and I have a fast computer!!) and I would rather spend my spare time writing about amazing computer things I've learned than configuring Arch Linux 🙂 🙂

But software for drawing! People! Drawing software on tablets is weird. Here are some features I want to make drawings: (which are generally stick figures)

  • Make drawings ("notebooks") with more than one page and easily export to PDF
  • A tool that can make squares
  • The ability to easily change the pen size and then go back to the old size in less than a minute
  • Copy and paste parts of a drawing
  • Clone a notebook so I can edit the clone
  • Make any size canvas I want
  • Makes vector images

It turns out that most drawing tools don't let you have more than one page. (like Procreate on iPad and Infinite Design / Autodesk SketchBook on Android). When I started out, I would make them one page at a time and then manually rearrange them in the right order into a PDF. GoodNotes on iPad incomprehensibly does not have a tool that lets you make squares (you need to draw the square by hand and hope that the software magically recognizes that it was a square and straightens it up for you). Any given tablet drawing software seems to have some arbitrary subset of these features, but none of them have them all.

Anyway, I use Squid on Android and it's very very good. There are some weird gotchas — I have to pick from maybe 8 fixed canvas sizes and I can't add more (want 200 x 300 pixels? Too bad!!), and it's impossible to copy documents (if I want 2 versions of a 10-page document I can go page by page and copy each page one at a time).

I use it to draw small drawings that I put on Twitter, 20-pages zines (like about computer networking!) and slides for my talks. It's great.

What would be your dream setup?

I don't really like desks. I spend most of my time working on the couch, so I would like a couch that is good for my back. Also a tablet that has hardware as nice as the Apple Pencil but runs Android.


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Kitto Katsu


Kitto Katsu

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Kat, and by day I'm an IT project manager and business analyst. However, by night I create videos about anime figurines and other Japanese pop-culture items on YouTube as Kitto Katsu! I also run a website of the same name which has news, reviews and other announcements from the Japanese pop-culture scene, and administrate a website on collectibles called My Figure Collection.

What hardware do you use?

For my photography and videos I use a Canon EOS 650D/Rebel T4i with a Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS lens, a pair of umbrella lights and a Vanguard Espod CX 233AGH tripod. On occassion I'll use a muslin backdrop if I want a more neutral background for the footage (like in this video and in most cases I'll use a plain old wooden coffee table and a G Tool Mr. Turn Table. I've also made a custom turntable for items that are too heavy for the rotating display. On occassion I'll use the F&V R-300 LED ring light, and a Mini Portable Photo Studio.

For editing I'll use my desktop computer with dual Nvidia cards running in SLI, and for recording audio I use a Blue Yeti mic with The Pop filter or the Zoom H4n Handy Recorder.

If I'm away from my equipment and need to take photos quickly for Twitter updates and whatnot, like for major events, I'll use my handy-dandy iPhone 6.

And what software?

Software-wise, for editing I swear by Sony Vegas Pro for video and Audacity for audio recording and editing. For editing photography I'll use Lightroom or quick edits will be done using GIMP.

Other than that, because most of what I do is social media based, naturally I use Facebook, Twitter and Wix for my website.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would definitely be having a dedicated studio for recording and editing videos without being bothered or bothering anyone around. Which I am currently in the process of setting up, thankfully!

But as for products themselves, I'd be adding soundproofing foam, a bigger light tent, a better podcasting station to have guests visit and record in person, and on the other side of things, have a big enough travel bag to carry all the important equipment for recording interviews externally.

And if we're going total dream setup, a Canon 5D Mk IV and EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, and more lights in general.

If I could go as far as having anything, I suppose I'd happily ask for a full-time video editor as well! Haha.


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Darby Thomas


Darby Thomas

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello, I'm a designer and illustrator in San Francisco. I spent three years making weird, fun stuff with Photojojo and Parabo Press. Now my day job is getting creators paid at Patreon. I'm increasingly getting more chill with calling myself a part-time political activist.

What hardware do you use?

The nerdiest thing about my digital setup is my Cherry MX keyboard with custom rainbow keycaps. I recently replaced my Bamboo tablet with Wacom's Intuos. Both those plug into my LG monitor.

What surprised me about activism is even in high-tech San Francisco an in-person conversation and a printed flyer is the best way to reach people. I hit the limit of what my Epson XP-640 inkjet printer could do and upgraded to the Canon MB2720 color laser printer and got the Canon PIXMA so I can do supertabloid prints. I picked up the cheapest 1" and 2.5" button makers you can get because omg people love pins! So if you're interested, you too can turn a corner of your junior one-bedroom apartment into a propaganda machine for about $500.

I'm a pretty frequent surfer and I have a 6'4" Modern Love Child surfboard. It's wide enough that I can teach my friends how to surf with it and short enough that I can stuff it into my hatchback.

And what software?

The switch from in-house designer to product designer was intersting. At Photojojo I'd be making goofy illustrations for pranks (like making a package smell like fresh baked cookies) in the morning, and then I'd be coding the frontend for a promotion in the afternoon. At Patreon I'm mostly in Sketch, Dropbox Paper, and Google Sheets.

Signal, Google Groups, and Google Drive are the apps that make organizing possible. I don't know how people did this stuff before.

What would be your dream setup?

This is pretty typical of someone in a city but more space. Right now I'm a few shelves and a desk away from feeling like I'm not drowning in stuff.


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