Mike Lazer-Walker


Mike Lazer-Walker

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Mike Lazer-Walker (yes, that's my real name!). I make installation art and experimental games that ask people to interact with everyday objects in unexpected and playful new ways. A lot of my work involves vintage technology, such as fully-functional USB telegraph keys and a game played on a 90-year-old telephone switchboard. Other projects revolve more around recontextualizing familiar objects and spaces, such as a generative poetry walk in San Francisco's Fort Mason and a game where you sext with a robot.

Aside from my art practice, I build software tools. I care a lot about making sure that we're building technology and providing tools that actively enable and empower people to improve themselves. This tends to manifest itself in open-source software tools to help other programmers be more productive (my day job is building iOS and web apps), "quantified self"-style tools mostly built for my own purposes, and educational projects to help others teach themselves new skills. I've spent a lot of time in spaces designed to foster self-driven creative learning, such as the MIT Media Lab (where I was a researcher with the now-defunct Playful Systems group) and the Recurse Center.

What hardware do you use?

My main computer is a 12" MacBook. It still feels weird using a computer with a lower GeekBench score than my phone, but I travel a lot and prefer to work out of coffee shops, so it's hard to put a price on having a laptop light enough I can legitimately forget it's in my bag. I'll occasionally augment it with my beefy home-built gaming PC at home or a Linux virtual box from DigitalOcean if I need to do something more computationally intensive. It's usually paired with my AirPods, which I adore.

As I said, I mostly work out of coffee shops, but working at home lets me use my beloved Unicomp Model M buckling-spring mechanical keyboard and Razor DeathAdder gaming mouse. For hardware work, I have a lovely Weller WES51 soldering iron, plus a bunch of other much more forgettable tools. For quick prototyping work, I have a Monoprice MAKER SELECT v2 3D printer. It's pretty junky, but having a 3D printer that I paid less than $200 for makes me feel like I'm living in a William Gibson novel. I mostly use it for rapid prototyping; anything that needs a higher-quality print gets sent to Shapeways.

Most of my screen time is frankly spent on my iPhone 6S Plus. I also use my iPad (an iPad Air 2), mostly for things like reading and Netflix and doing the NY Times crossword, and an Apple Watch mostly for fitness tracking and NFC payments. Building iOS apps for a living means I'm pretty enmeshed in the Apple ecosystem.

I take a lot of freehand notes, typically using Moleskine notebooks (hardcover, paperback-sized, and with grid rule, please) and Pilot Vpen disposable fountain pens. They give me the tactile enjoyment of fountain pens without having to feel bad about losing them or getting sucked into the rabbithole of yet another time-consuming and pricey hobby.

And what software?

For writing code: if I'm not writing native iOS apps in Xcode, you can usually find me in Visual Studio Code. Making games that use weird custom physical interfaces, I tend to write mostly cross-platform ES6 or TypeScript code that can run anywhere from a Raspberry Pi as part of a physical installation to an iOS app that wraps the shared JS game logic in a native Swift UI wrapper (which is incredibly useful for playtesting purposes). It's incredibly powerful to be able to write a single game engine that can run anywhere from a Unix shell to an iPad to a physical 90-year-old telephone switchboard.

I use Sketch and Pixelmator for most visual-related work. 3D CAD mostly happens in Onshape, which runs delightfully on an iPad. I do most other things related to software development in a terminal, where I use zsh with oh-my-zsh as my shell.

My task management is handled by a combination of OmniFocus and Trello, plus Habitica for helping to train me to be a better human being. Quick notes for anything I'm working on inevitably get stored in nvAlt, using Simplenote to sync with the cloud and use from my phone. Other stuff that doesn't live there or on my public GitHub gets stored in Sync, a lovely Dropbox clone that stores my data using zero-knowledge encryption on Canadian soil.

I try to do as much as possible from my phone and tablet rather than my laptop. Looking at the front page of my phone: Foursquare is my gold standard for finding places to eat in new cities while traveling. Fantastical is my calendar of choice. I use 1password for password management, and Instapaper and Overcast to keep track of things to read and listen to. Not to toot my own horn, but one of my most frequently-used apps is Bike NYC, a minimalist app I built for NYC's bike share program.

Along with Bike NYC, a lot of the other apps I use frequently are ones I've built myself. Another good example is Cortado, a location-aware caffeine tracker I use to help me see the effect caffeine has on my well-being. I wish it were less time-intensive and easier for people who aren't professional software developers to build their own software; there's something really empowering about being able to build a custom tool to scratch your own precise itch.

I spend more time than I should playing videogames (it's "professional research", I swear). Although I love my Nintendo Switch, most of my gaming time is spent on my phone or tablet. I maintain a list of my favorite mobile games.

What would be your dream setup?

I can point to specific pieces of hardware I'd like — an iPad Pro so I can use an Apple Pencil with Onshape and drawing software! One of the new beefier 12" MacBooks! A home PCB mill like an Othermill so I can prototype PCBs without the turnaround time of mail services like OSH Park! — but changes to my tools at that level are just incremental improvements.

What's more frustrating to me is having to balance the interesting work with the work that pays the bills, and spending most of my time working on solo projects rather than collaborating with others. If I could wave a magic wand, I'd find myself in an environment where I'm surrounded by other cool creative people to bounce ideas off of, collaborate with, and appreciate each other's work, and where we somehow don't have to worry about making ends meet. Preferably still in an urban center with good bikeability and access to good coffee and beer.


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John Leavitt


John Leavitt

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm John Leavitt, a writer, cartoonist and activist.

What hardware do you use?

I am embarrassingly analog. Most of my art is done on board or watercolor, using pilot pens and brushes and a child's watercolor set I got five years ago. The most importent tool I have is a Llghtbox, so I can pencil, ink, and paint things in separate sheets of paper and then recombine them digitally. I use an aging Wacom tablet and equally ancient copy of Photoshop to touch things up later. Having everything scanned separately allows for a lot more freedom to edit.

I use a Brother printer/scanner and it's the only one that hasn't crapped out on me on the regular.

For writing, I need a real keyboard, so I have a Lenovo laptop used exclusively for writing, video editing, and playing Civilization. If I get stuck on something I'll write things in longhand, on yellow legal pads, until I get some flow back.

As for activism, most of that is signs and banners, and that still requires brushes and glue and boards and maybe some glitter. The revolution requires arts and crafts, after all.

And what software?

Word/Google Docs for writing, Photoshop for editing, Avid Studio for video editing, and Inkscape for anything vector related.

What would be your dream setup?

Mostly what I have, but more of it. A standing Lightbox/desk setup would be great, as would a large format scanner and a real dedicated crafting area. A portable keyboard as real and solid as a real keyboard would be freeing (I type too fast for even the best virtual keyboards) but since I work from home, the ideal would be my own room where I can close the door and shut myself in or shut work out.


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Lex Gill


Lex Gill

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello! I'm a research fellow at the Citizen Lab and a legal researcher at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Between these two roles I work on all kinds of stuff — from encryption policy and national security to policing, prisons and borders. My favourite legal problems are messy, high-stakes, and interdisciplinary.

Both organizations are based in Toronto, but I mostly live and work in Montreal. It's still a little gritty, and intensely creative — queer and quirky and brave. No matter how much I travel, being a Montrealer is a big part of my setup.

What hardware do you use?

I have a early 2016 12" MacBook (space grey!) and an iPhone 6S (gold!).

I don't carry confidential data or devices internationally, so instead of the glorious new MacBook, I brought a (wiped) 2013 MacBook Air on a recent trip to Tokyo. That machine is on its last legs — it's about 50% spinning beach ball and keys are starting to fall out of the board like baby teeth — which means I'm in the market for a new travel Chromebook.

I can't find an e-reader I like, so I do a lot of long-form reading on this really cool technology called paper which is made from mashed up trees. I also still do a surprising amount of writing and drawing by hand — I'm partial to Rhodia dot pads and recently fell in love with the feel of these double-ended pens from MUJI. I was also gifted a Space Pen last year from my partner, which — if you've ever had a pen explode on a plane, you'll know — is a godsend for travel.

I have an Apple Watch 2, which I use pretty much exclusively as a fitness tracker (I'd never get anything done if I enabled other notifications). I get everywhere on a cheap and reliable fixed gear bike and have a set of rainbow Monkeylectric lights which are an endless source of joy for small children and drunk local partygoers alike.

And what software?

I'm a Todoist power user. It's beautiful, reliable, and intuitive — just about everything I plan to do or want to remember gets catalogued there somehow. I'm not a very good multi-tasker (apparently few people are) so it helps free up my working memory.

My communications setup sometimes feels a little bit like this XKCD comic. Privacy and security are important to me — both because of the nature of my work and because of my values — but it can be tricky getting everyone you love on the same channel. I've pared it down in recent months, but I still use some combination of Signal, Semaphor, Tor Messenger (beta), Twitter and Slack every day. I like Jitsi for videoconferencing.

A lot of my day-to-day work involves quiet writing and legal research, but I can't seem to find a lightweight text editor I love. I spent my law school days using an idiosyncratic markup system with a custom script to convert notes written in Sublime Text into billion-page LaTeX documents. I've since graduated to Bear, which is a much more elegant solution (and lets you integrate sketches!). I still use Sublime sometimes, and I'm currently taking Standard Notes for a test run.

I support the Tor Project, and use Tor for as much of my browsing as I reasonably can.

What would be your dream setup?

I have almost superstitious ideas about how spaces change the way we think and work. I think being in the right environment can encourage people to be their best selves.

So for deep focus? A large desk in the wilderness — like something straight out of the Instagram dreamscapes of rich bohemian glampers. No clocks, endless coffee, soft grey skies and a big stack of books.

For collaborative work, I wish for — and this, I'm convinced, is the dream of every remote worker — an enormous kitchen table in a loft full of plants. A bucket at the door where people leave their phones and grab a pair of slippers. Natural light and open windows on cool, sunny autumn days. A fridge full of homemade snacks. All of the people I work with in one place.

Finally, most people don't realize that a lot of important legal sources are totally inaccessible: either behind (extremely expensive!) paywalls or tucked away in university libraries and courthouses. I'm lucky to have access to these kinds of sources, but projects like the Caselaw Access Project and CanLII are working to fix this problem for everyone. The law belongs to all of us — in my dream setup, it would be free for all of us too.


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David Lawrence Miller


David Lawrence Miller

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm David Lawrence Miller, and I work as an ecological statistician at various places (currently between the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation in Hobart, Tasmania and the University of St Andrews in Scotland). I spend a lot of time thinking about how to model where animals are in space and how we can use those models to count them better. Much of my time is spent doing modelling of whales, but I like to be fairly species-agnostic.

For fun I like to make weird things with computers, usually involving some kind of stochasticity. I've written a few Twitter bots, the most famous of which is @birdcolourbot which tweets the colours (as identified by humans) of various North American birds (a little write-up it got in NYT). I also wrote @transect575 which takes observer comments from survey data looking for whales, and builds haikus.

What hardware do you use?

I currently use a 2013 MacBook Air – it's the best computer I've ever bought. It seems to still be working fine, though I am dreading the next upgrade. I use a Nifty MiniDrive with a 128Gb SD card to store large things (music, movies, datasets) without having to cart around an external hard disk (get the fastest, largest card you can!). If I need to do "serious" computing, I send my jobs to a server called isbjørn (polar bear) in St Andrews with more cores/RAM than I can count.

I'm about 2m tall so most of my hardware is really about making using a computer comfortable.. At home I use the largest Dell monitor (propped up with some of my wife's economics textbooks) I could afford a few years ago and an Ikea height-adjustable desk with an Aeron for when I sit. I use a Kinesis Freestyle II keyboard; top tip is to get some grip tape to put on some of the letters so you can find your way round when you start using it. I also use a 3M EM500 vertical mouse, though avoid mousework as much as possible.

When I travel I take the keyboard and the Roost stand; both can fit in hand luggage fairly easily. I have a Tom Bihn Brain Cell vertical case for extra laptop protection (after an unfortunate overheating situation caused by a previous laptop turning itself on in my bag a few years ago).

I don't really care about mobile phones aside from their camera, eBird (for birding) and Tweetbot (for Twitter). I have an iPhone SE because it's pretty much the smallest functional phone I could find that has a good camera.

For mathematics, I tend to use a Lamy Studio extra fine point fountain pen (Lamy ink seems to be good), a couple of colours of Muji gell ballpoints and a large hardback Moleskine plain notebook (people who do maths on lined paper freak me out).

For bird watching I carry Monarch 3 8x42s and use a cheap adapter for the iPhone, which lets me take nice-ish photos. I think paper guides are still ahead of phone-based ones for now (aside from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Merlin app for North America).

Sony MDR-V6s are easily the best headphones I've ever owned. They are not good for walking around/travel but for sitting in a quiet office, they are perfect. I am regularly pleased by how good they sound and how comfortable they are for long periods (you can get replacement covers, which are much more comfortable than the faux-leather ones they come with).

And what software?

I spend 80% of my time in the terminal (iTerm2) and the rest in Thunderbird. vim is where most of my code/paper editing happens, when writing papers, I use Papers citation manager to quickly insert references (set up to pop-up search in any context with a double tap of ctrl) – this is the only thing that keeps me using that program but it saves a lot of time.

Almost all my programming is done in R. I write most of my analyses in R Markdown then convert to LaTeX/PDF/HTML as necessary.

Almost everything I do ends up in git, I use git-prompt to show the status of the working repo in my bash prompt.

Sitting in my menubar is Arq (backup), Caffeine (stops your Mac sleeping), 1Password and f.lux (set to pretty red all the time, for the sake of my eyes).

What would be your dream setup?

Something that's both small and rugged would be great — an indestructible MacBook Air 11" would be perfect. I haven't looked at non-Mac laptops in a while, but given Apple's increasing complications with cloud-based solutions, I'm thinking of going back to Linux (after 13 years on Mac). A more portable version of the Kinesis keyboard would be great too.

I'd love something better than Thunderbird to deal with e-mail, especially for large inboxes that does modern stuff like deferring mail — I've yet to find something open and usable.

I'm relatively happy with what I have at the moment software-wise. Turning the question on its head, I think my nightmare setup would involve having everything be cloud-based. I really value being offline and not having constant pinging of e-mail/twitter/etc. Most of my current setup involves asynchronous communication with the internet, and this suits me very well.


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Matt Lee


Matt Lee

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Matt Lee, aka mattl. I'm a filmmaker and free software hacker from the UK, but I have spent most of the last ten years in and around Boston, MA. I moved to the US in 2008 after making a short film about GNU and free software with Stephen Fry. For the last fifteen years or so, I've been working on the GNU operating system in various guises, and in the last eight of those years I started and worked on the GNU FM and (co-founded) GNU social projects. GNU FM is a bit like Last.fm, and the flagship site is Libre.fm and GNU social is a bit like Twitter I suppose. GNU social uses the OStatus protocol, which is also used by Mastodon to build a federated social network.

Previously I was the technical lead at Creative Commons for a number of years, and before that I worked at the Free Software Foundation for about five years. But I recently retired from the GNU Project to concentrate on my current passion project, which is film. My first feature film, Orang-U: An Ape Goes To College came out on July 8th, and is the first in a series of movies I'm making. Uniquely, my films are made with entirely free/open software, have proper paid actors in them and when we release them we give you all of the source materials too, so you can really remix and do something creative with the end product. It has taken a while to get here, but we're finally ready to show this to the world. And along the way, I wound up writing a novelization of the movie, so we're releasing that as well. It's all Creative Commons ShareAlike licensed, so even commercial use is okay. But no DRM, so we won't be appearing on Netflix anytime soon, which suits me.

And when I say we, it's basically myself and my co-writer Ryan Dougherty, plus some friends from the free software world.

What hardware do you use?

My main laptop these days is a Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, kindly donated to me by GitLab. It has a 4K touch screen display, 16Gb of RAM and a half terabyte of SSD storage, as well as an awkwardly placed webcam. It's okay to type on, but I mostly have it connected to a Dell 4k monitor and a WASD mechanical keyboard in the office. I'm also lucky to have one of Dell's Project Sputnik developers as a friend of mine for support, if I ever need it. I also have a ThinkPad T440S, also with 16GB of RAM but a full terabyte of SSD.

The movies are filmed using a Canon XA10 camera, which I picked because it has XLR inputs. Sound is recorded using a Rode shotgun microphone or a Xoom H4N recorder. I have a shoebox full of USB hard disks, brand new SSDs and SD cards in various sizes from 32mb to 128gb too, just in case.

The box also contains all the Raspberry Pis and Firefox OS phones I'll never get around to doing anything with. I have a Google Pixel phone, which seems to lock up about once every two days, and a couple of Apple products that don't get used much at all, but it can be interesting to know what they're up to. I also have the final model of PowerBook G3 running Mac OS 9, so it's a bit of a screamer. I picked that up to attend the Web 1.0 Conference at MIT last year, and its still on the floor of my apartment. Oh, and there's a random $30 tower PC I picked up on eBay to run OPENSTEP too. I suppose I'm a bit of an operating system nut.

And what software?

Pretty much everything I've ever written down on a computer since the early 1990s has been in GNU Emacs. When writing scripts for the movies, I use a format called Fountain, which is essentially just Markdown. I usually don't even have the Fountain mode turned on in Emacs, but it can be useful to check things sometimes. I use a script called Textplay to turn the Fountain markup into HTML. I also use a tool called Pandoc for doing things like producing PDFs of books from Markdown. Everything is stored in both git and Dropbox — git for myself, Dropbox for non-hackers. I make a lot of notes on my phone, emailing them to myself and then turning those into folders for later projects.

Video editing is done entirely in Blender, which is by far the most stable video editing tool I've used on GNU/Linux. Titles and credits and things like that are made using GIMP and Inkscape, and then animated using Blender's more famous animation capabilities. I'd like to find an alternative to Audacity that doesn't lock up the sound on my computer too.

To support all these tools I run GNU/Linux on all my day to day computers — Ubuntu on the Dell for the better support for HiDPI displays in Unity, and Debian on the ThinkPad. Once GNOME has better support for HiDPI displays I will put Debian on the Dell, so I don't have to think too much about what I'm doing. My desktop needs are pretty basic — a browser, several terminals, GIMP/Inkscape or just Blender for when I'm editing.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would be a super fast laptop with excellent build quality and a touchscreen. The Dell XPS comes pretty close. Maybe Apple will produce a decent MacBook Pro that can run GNU/Linux well, but I doubt it. I'll probably wind up building a new PC soon for rendering. I'm a little bewildered by the parts in my local Microcenter — I know I want a screamer, but I need to be careful to not buy a video card that requires proprietary drivers. I'd like to see better support for HiDPI displays in free software, and I'd like to see more people using Blender to edit video, so that Blender itself becomes better and gets more features for video editing and video editors. I'm very happy editing my own work right now, but if that ever changes, I can see it taking a little while to get someone else up to speed using Blender.

I think one way to make free software tools better for artists is to get more artists to use the tools we have currently, and then see what can be done to improve them later. But I am just very happy to have made a feature length movie using free tools. It gives me something to do between watching Law and Order SVU episodes and tweeting the CEO of T-Mobile


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Eileen Webb


Eileen Webb

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Eileen Webb and I'm a content strategist focused on structure and systems architecture. I like organizing content and making clever data models, and especially I like working with teams to figure out how to document and communicate that strategy and structure so that everyone can use it well. Practically speaking, I:

  • sit in front of a screen all day
  • read people's websites and internal documents
  • talk to team members about their frustrations and hopes and dreams
  • design better systems and processes so people's work lives are happier

My official job title is Director of Strategy and Livestock. I live on a small farm and raise poultry and lambs and pigs and rabbits. I cook a lot, raise a big garden, make some of my own clothes, and spend a lot of time hanging out in the woods.

What hardware do you use?

I have a MacBook Pro that's a few years old. The most taxing thing I do is join Google Hangouts (hey cooling fan heyyy), so I expect it to last me for a while longer. My partner and I have only a single iPhone between us, which people think is crazy, but there's not much cell signal up in our mountains so there's no reason to have two.

I got a Serger last year and it seriously upped my clothing game. It cuts and sews at the same time! Amazing.

I have a Passap Duomatic 80 knitting machine, passed down to me from my grandmother, and I use it to make a ton of sweaters and socks and other soft wooly things. It came to me many years ago, but it's got such a steep and inscrutable learning curve that until Ravelry took off, it sat in the barn collecting dust. Now I'm connected to hundreds of people around the world who have the same machine, and we share patterns and pitfalls and help each other figure out why the yarn keeps breaking in the middle of a row.

I swear by Premier electric fence netting for protecting all our animals. Technically a bobcat can jump right over a 42" fence (while carrying a full-grown turkey! ask me how I know) but most of the time it's enough of a deterrent to keep everyone safe.

Also I love having a window-mount bird feeder near my desk. I get visitors all day.

And what software?

In the summer my primary software is the hammock on my back deck. I've figured out a way to wedge my laptop securely between the sides, and it's a pretty great way to review spreadsheets.

Before this laptop I had a Linux desktop, and when I switched to the Mac I decided that I was just done with customizing and tweaking my setup. So mostly I use the default programs with their default settings: I like Pages and Numbers and Keynote, I use Gmail in the browser, I keep my desktop completely empty except for this anthropomorphic emmental that I upload as a custom emoji in every Slack I'm part of.

I use iA Writer for all my writing and note taking because I like how simple it is, and the way it formats Markdown. I use TextMate when I need to write code; I did take the time to customize the syntax highlighting to make the comments across all languages a calming pastel pink.

Whenever I need to buckle down and focus, I put on headphones and fire up Brain Wave. Supposedly it's adjusting my brain frequencies to be better focused and energized, or maybe it's just a Pavlovian association I've created between listening to that ambient sounds and getting good work done. It's at least 62% pseudo-science, but who cares?

What would be your dream setup?

It's buggy here, so I would love a screen porch. I should probably have a more ergonomic screen/keyboard rig, but to be honest I'd rather just spend less time typing than more time making it comfortable. I'd make good use of a tea station (boiling water, bar sink, etc) upstairs in my office, instead of having to trek downstairs to the kitchen like an animal. We really need a legit barn (instead of the collection of sheds and hutches we have for the livestock now), but I think that will have to wait for our next house. These are all extra luxuries, though. My life is good.


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