Aroon Karuna


Aroon Karuna

Who are you, and what do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

What hardware do you use?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what software?

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

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

My other favorite software:

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

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

What would be your dream setup?

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

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


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Victor Thompson


Victor Thompson

Who are you, and what do you do?

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

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

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

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

What hardware do you use?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what software?

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

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

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

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

What would be your dream setup?

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

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

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


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Hannah Nicklin


Hannah Nicklin

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Hannah Nicklin, I'm a freelance writer, narrative designer, producer and performer who has work in games, theatre, academia and community arts. I'm currently working as a writer and narrative designer with Die Gute Fabrik, and previous did narrative design/creative production for Twisted Tree Games (Ed Key's studio/label). Other things I do include writing critical articles in response to games and games culture, giving performance talks, producing zines, giving lectures, running workshops, putting on and hosting events, and consultancy on narrative games and the spaces where theatre, games and play cross over.

I also combine this with 10-15 hours of training and racing per week as a competitive cyclist, racing at a National level in the UK (hopefully branching out into Europe in 2018-19!). This year I also ran social media as a volunteer for the London Women's Racing league – a grassroots organisation supporting women getting into racing in the SE and London area.

What hardware do you use?

My staple is a MacBook Pro, and I also have an old iMac with a much larger screen (21" I think?) which I use a Thunderbolt connector from the MBP to use it as a second screen (cmd+f2) which allows me to run whatever I'm writing in next to a bunch of reference material, or the various spreadsheets which I'll be using to plot out plot elements and dialogue. If I need another screen I'll use my iPad mini. I tend to read on a Kindle. I also use plain or dotted A5ish size notebooks to run my day-to-day life (I like the Lamy Safari fountain pens with black ink, always black ink), and post it notes + sharpies to take notes/plan things out, as you can always move them around as your ideas constellate and crystallise.

I do a bit of recording audio (interviews for articles etc) and running small scale performance sometimes, and I rely on my Zoom H2n, plus a Sure SM58 and a QTX QR12PA Portable PA System. I've got a Canon 550D for shots of installations/recording HD trailers/promos etc. I've also got a 1080p 4000 lumen HD projector.

In terms of the bike training hardware: Garmin vívoactive HR, Garmin Edge 810 with HRM, Cadence and speed sensors, Power Tap P1 power meter, Canyon Ultimate carbon Ultegra/Di2 bike! I also have some Bluetooth Garmin body composition scales.

And what software?

I use Gdocs/Drive for collaboration – and so do all of the games projects I've worked on. I swear by using the Chrome 'People' function to separate projects out so I can keep my tabs open when not working on a particular project and keep my social/off hours Internet use separate from work. You can also then be signed into different Google identities, etc. I use TextEdit to do basically all my temporary notes, meeting agendas, thoughts, and clear-thinking. I'll usually draft in full screen TextEdit before moving it to Word to edit, and Gdocs to share. Dropbox Pro is my go-to for file storing and sharing docs I'm not collaborating on. I've used SourceTree mostly for git-based projects and thus far only ever worked on Unity-based games.

I use OmniGraffle to draft branching dialogue in (using arrow labels as potential player choices) at the moment, though I've also used Twine to sketch narrative designs, and also propriety dialogue systems made for specific games. I find it useful to write in something like OmniGraffle into boxes as the size of the canvas you're writing on changes the length of line that 'feels' acceptable on the page. If you write to A4 size line breaks you'll often write the kind of dialogue that would feel right on stage or screen, but in an animated text delivery system – like a speech bubble where text appears – will read far too long.

I edit images in Photoshop, and audio in Logic Pro, but never have to do much complicated in terms of video so will happily use iMovie for that.

More generally I run my freelance career in MailMate – which is a very no-nonsense mail client, though powerful if you want to use all the customisation – to manage my few email accounts, and keep my life in (current count) 6 separate Google Calendars (some shared), which all sync through Calendar. As soon as I have a thought for a blog post, an article, a project, a thing I should do, or remember – I put it somewhere in the calendar or my notebook. If it's more than a week away I find a bit of free time in my calendar and I put it in there. If it's less than a week away it goes in the notebook.

Each Sunday every week I sit down and I do a week plan on one page of my notebook, which takes everything out of the calendar and writes it into a week schedule I draw out — I won't reference it again but it's a process of putting it into my head. Then each day I draw up a detailed plan of the next day, hour by hour. Starting with a list of everything I will need to do on the right hand side of the page, then putting the time dependent things in, and fitting everything else around it, working back from the last bit of the day, I put in my training in, and then work back another 90 minutes and that's when I'll plan to wake up. The list on the right hand side of the page gets crossed out as I do everything, and left over items get transplanted to a later day until they're done.

My training is set by a coach using TrainingPeaks – a piece of really versatile performance management software. I'll track my sleep, weight/body composition, and general activity, plus cross training using Garmin Connect and my vívoactive HR, training performance data goes in via the Bluetooth sync of the 810, and I keep track of my nutrition using MyFitnessPal. I use FitnessSyncer to link up a couple of accounts/data sources that TrainingPeaks doesn't have native support for, so my coach has a 24/7 picture of my training, sleep, weight etc. I'll usually communicate the human stuff; RPE, etc, via Facebook messages!

Finally; admin! I keep my accounts in Excel, run my site/s through WordPress (self hosted), and promote my work through Twitter, MailChimp (very rarely), and press release.

What would be your dream setup?

I thought the MBP with the line of customisable touch buttons was silly but I've seen one now and actually I think I'd find it super useful! I don't really need anything more in terms of how I work, though. The main thing is it would be good to be able to get Fibre broadband where I am in London – at the moment it's 2-4mbps and the walls in my flat seem to be made of lead or something. My upload/download times are pretty frustrating, and my Steam Link doesn't actually work (I don't have a TV, but play games on the projector which is super nice). I'd also love a Surface Pro so I could use some Windows specific software/play Windows-specific games.

My dream set up on a bike is probably a top of the range S-Works or Canyon frameset with some decent Zipp or Dura Ace mid-section carbon clinchers, Di2, Dura Ace groupset, conti tyres, paired with some custom footbed Sidis! I can dream..


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Laura DeGroot


Laura DeGroot

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Laura DeGroot. I'm a web developer, designer, thing-maker, and poet. I work at Format as a front end developer. I like making fun art about space and nature.

What hardware do you use?

For design and web development I use a 2014 15" MacBook Pro. When I'm using that computer as a TV, I usually write or look at Twitter with my 2014 11" MacBook Air. My phone is an iPhone 6. I recently traded a stranger 6 cans of beer in exchange for a Kindle – I've been reading way more than ever as a result! I just finished reading The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick.

And what software?

For development I use Atom to edit text, Hyper for the command line, and Slack integrations for deploys.

For design I use Sketch. It's a weird choice for creating anything that's going to be printed, but I have a licence from work and I've learned it the most recently! It works for me, I usually just make sure everything is tens of thousands of pixels in size before I try to have it printed – so far so good! To edit photos I use Affinity Photo – it's a great bit of software and the price works for me as someone who only edits images once in a while.

My favourite writing app is OmmWriter. It takes over your screen to minimize distractions, and has lots of cute features like a choice of background, music, and even keypress sound effects. I love the sound effect that makes every keypress sound like a rain drop, it motivates me to keep typing! When inspiration comes randomly, the Notes app on OS X and iOS is always in use.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm pretty happy with what I have! I've been thinking about finding a scanner so I can import some drawings and handwriting into Sketch. I don't have an external monitor at home, and that's something I'd like to change. Overall though, I'd enjoy less tech in my life – especially in my free time. Unfortunately it's very useful for accomplishing my creative goals 🙂


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James Turnbull


James Turnbull

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi! I'm James. I am an engineer and author. I love building products and teams.

I work as CTO at Empatico, a not-for-profit educational technology company. We connect elementary (primary) age students from different backgrounds and geographies with a focus on developing their curiosity about others and their communication and empathy skills.

Prior to that, I was the CTO at Kickstarter, the VP of Engineering at Venmo, and was an early employee at both Docker and Puppet. I've also built product and run teams in finance, telecommunications, biotech, gaming and technology companies.

I write technical books about topics in engineering, operations, and security. I've written ten books, including The Docker Book and The Terraform Book.

I'm originally from Melbourne in Australia but my partner and I have been living in the United States, most recently New York City, for a number of years now. I am deeply in love with the city. I love the subway, the noise, the people, and even the rats and the smell of stale garbage. 🙂

What hardware do you use?

Day-to-day I use a 2016 Macbook Pro with Touchpad and my phone is a Google Pixel XL 5.5.

I do a little bit of gaming and I have a Windows-based Puget Systems PC that basically just runs Steam.

I read a lot and I am a huge fan of the Kindle as an e-reader. I have owned one of pretty much every Kindle model released and currently use a Kindle Oasis. The battery life makes it great for travel and the lighting and crispness of the screen make reading in low light – planes, bars, cafes, badly lit hotel rooms – super easy.

And what software?

My life runs out of a combination of G Suite, Postbox, Remember The Milk, 1Password, and Evernote.

I have multiple Chrome profiles for different purposes and usually have way too many tabs open at a time.

I also use way far too many communications tools. Seemingly like everyone in tech, I belong to more Slacks than I can manage, including being one of the owners of the NYC Tech Slack. I use Signal, Skype, Trillian to consolidate GTalk and Facebook (and checking my accounts in there I still have some Jabber accounts, ICQ, and AIM too), and AirText. I was an early Twitter user – my first tweet was something like "Huh. I don't get it." – and it's a platform I both like and loath, depending on the day.

I write every day, both code and prose, and I've used a number of editors over the years. Recently, I've settled on Visual Studio Code, Microsoft's open source code editor/IDE, which I use both as a text editor (my books are Markdown with a bit of LaTeX for higher level formatting and use Pandoc to turn them into formatted artifacts) and an IDE. Code has got vim bindings and excellent Git integration which, since most of what I write lives in GitHub, works out pretty well.

I can't escape the command line though and I use iTerm2 running fish and will often jump into vim on the command line for quick edits. I also use Weechat for the handful of remaining, fairly quiet, IRC channels I am still resident in.

What would be your dream setup?

In my old house in Melbourne, I used the master bedroom as an office. I bought a huge antique dining table for the center of the room and every wall had bookshelves. That was amazing and I loved being able to move around the table, spread out books and papers, and work from different angles. I'd love to recreate that again.


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Leah Finnegan


Leah Finnegan

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Leah Finnegan. I am the features editor at The Outline and I write a semi-regular newsletter called Leah Letter about how the media is bad.

What hardware do you use?

I use an 11-in MacBook Air, a 23-in Dell monitor, an Apple Magic Keyboard, the cheapest Logitech wireless mouse Staples had in stock which is very small and I love it, a mouse pad with wrist support, an iPhone 6s which I can't wait to get rid of because the battery life is one minute, and a 6-ft iPhone charging cord.

I have a rolling desk from CB2 and some matching filing cabinets that I store sweaters in. I don't have any actual files. I have a lot of chairs. My desk chair is a vintage green velvet cantilever chair that I got at a store called Coming Soon. It has improved my working life considerably.

For six years I lived in a shoebox studio and basically did all my work on my laptop in bed. Now I live in a shoebox one-bedroom and having space for a desk and a chair and all the things you can put on a desk has been a revelation. I also have a one-cup Keurig which is very important to me.

And what software?

Gmail, Feedly, TextEdit, Google Docs, Slack, Twitter, Kindle for iPhone, Brainium Solitaire for iPhone, and iTunes because I still buy all my music like an elderly person.

What would be your dream setup?

My apartment, but in a silent place, with a constantly replenishing supply of Diet Coke.


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Milena Popova


Milena Popova

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Milena Popova (pronouns: they/them), and I'm incapable of saying no to a shiny project, so I have many fingers in many pies. The current day job (which I love!) is PhD researcher. Depending on who I'm talking to, I'm either a porn researcher, or I research sexual consent in erotic fan fiction. I'm also a blogger and activist (on a whole bunch of issues), I'm running a couple of academic side projects, I sit on the board of the Open Rights Group, and I do some volunteering for the Organisation for Transformative Works. I think those are all the things that I do? PhD research is quite a solitary activity, but a lot of my other work involves collaborating with people, most of whom are probably not even in the same timezone as me.

What hardware do you use?

My desktop is a fairly generic Acer machine, about four years old now. I've also got a 13" Asus laptop (one of those shiny, thin, MacBook wannabe ones). I do a fair amount of work on the go, so my Samsung Galaxy tablet, and especially my phone (currently Samsung Galaxy S8) are super-important to me.

I use a couple of assistive tech pieces. I have a daylight lamp to get me through the interminable UK winter nights without losing the will to breathe and a HandShoe mouse to help me deal with occasional bouts of RSI.

I also really like pen and paper, particularly for thinking tasks and for getting organised. I have a bullet journal which is actually probably the one tool that keeps me on track and enables me to get stuff done. (For the fellow bullet journal geeks out there, I use the Leuchtturm1917 A5 dotted notebook, with Muji rollerball pens, Preppy fountain pens, and plenty of washi tape to help me find things.) I also carry around an A6 notebook with me where I draw mind maps and make notes of my word count and just stick random transactional notes in that help me think in-the-moment.

And what software?

Both my PCs run Linux Mint – I've been a big fan of Free Software since the late 90s. I was a poor student then so free-as-in-beer was a bonus, but the free-as-in-speech aspect has always been important to me. A lot of my work is writing, which to be honest happens mostly in Google Docs, though a fair chunk also happens in xed (the default Linux Mint text editor). I occasionally have to resort to LibreOffice when working with editors who like Word files and comments or tracked changes. I wouldn't recommend using any of these for actually producing a finished 80,000-word thesis though, so as I put the final touches on mine I'm about to embark on the journey of re-learning LaTeX, which is a typesetting mark-up language that produces gorgeous documents.

Reference management is another key part of academic work, and I use Mendeley for that. It's a really cool tool that can output bibliographies in lots of different formats as well as store and file your PDFs of academic papers for you. Importantly, it has a desktop app for Linux and a mobile app for Android, so I can read and manage papers on the go. The only downside of it is that it's owned by Elsevier, who are basically the supervillian of academic publishers, so one of these days I'll bite the bullet and migrate to something else. Speaking of academic publishing, while my university library is amazing, I won't have access to it for much longer. Sci-Hub is a great way of getting access to academic research without the exorbitant pricetag, so I use that a lot.

When it comes to my more collaborative projects, Slack is probably one of my main tools for working with people across continents and timezones. As long as whoever you're collaborating with also makes it part of their systems and routines, it's a really great way to meet, chat, share documents, etc. (even if I'm old enough to know that it's basically glorified IRC for hipster start-ups 😉 ). Again, that it comes with a desktop app for Linux and (more importantly) a mobile app is super-important for me: if I can use it on my phone I can integrate it into my life much more easily.

One really cool and unique piece of software I use is to do with my work for the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW). The OTW is a non-profit run by fans (in the widest sense of the word), and one of its biggest projects is the Archive of Our Own: an online archive which currently hosts over 3 million fan works. To organise that volume of stuff, you need metadata, but the OTW is really big on letting users create their own metadata in ways that make sense to them. This way, the OTW is not acting as gatekeepers or roadblocks to the evolution of fannish culture and language. That leaves us with a challenge though, which is that if one fan calls a thing an "Alternative Universe – Coffee Shop" and another calls it a "Coffe Shop AU" it's difficult to find all the fan works containing that concept. Which is where I and a few hundred other volunteers come in: we tag wrangle. While we let users put whatever tags they want on their works, we do some behind-the-scenes work to tell the Archive that "Alternative Universe – Coffee Shop" and "Coffee Shop AU" mean the same thing, so someone searching for fan works containing that concept can find all of them. And for that we use this internal tool called… The Wrangulator! 😀

In my fannish capacity I am also a podficcer: I record audio performances of other people's fan fiction works. I use the Linux Mint sound recorder for the recording, and Audacity for audio editing.

I'm also a big fan of something my friends and I term "care robots" – various apps that make our lives easier and help us look after ourselves. I have Twilight on my Android devices and f.lux on my PCs to filter blue light after sunset. I use Sleep as Android to track my sleep patterns (and make me go to bed on time) and Relax Melodies to help me clear my head and fall asleep. I also use Zombies, Run! to keep me from getting bored while running (nothing quite as motivating as being told there's twenty fast zombies coming your way!), and I'd probably also class Pokemon GO as a care robot as it gets me out of the house, at least as far as the nearest Pokestop, even on those PhD days when I just want to sit around in my pyjamas and bury myself in some reading.

What would be your dream setup?

One of the things I'd like to get into at some point is video, for which I'd probably need a better camera, a better lighting set-up, and more RAM. Also, video editing on Linux is dicey, so that's something to (reluctantly) think about. In an ideal world I'd probably also have a better mic, a screen, and maybe even a sound-proof recording space.


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Candy Chan


Candy Chan

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Candy Chan, an NYC-based urban designer, architect, and graphic designer. I am the creator of Project Subway NYC, a project about New York City's subway system, which consists of sketches, photographs, 3-D architectural drawings, and an Instagram component. The project started by being mainly about the visuals, but it has slowly developed into a comprehensive thesis about signage, wayfinding, and infrastructure. The blog chronicles my studies, with an ongoing collection of diagrams, trivia, and more.

What hardware do you use?

My process has two parts: on-site data collection and computer graphic production.

The first part involves me physically going into subway stations and taking notes. (I refer to the physical copy of the NYC subway map on my wall to decide where to go). I usually have with me a backpack, a clipboard, a mechanical pencil, white letter size paper, and a keychain that's also a mini measuring tape. I used to use a Sony NEX-3NL camera for pictures, but have recently switched to iPhone 7 since the quality of the pictures are great and it's one less thing to carry. I read on my Kindle when I am riding the subway.

For the second part I sit at my white work desk from Overstock.com, and I use a Microsoft Surface Book and a Logitech MX-310 wireless mouse. I print things with my Canon MG6800 printer.

And what software?

For drafting, I use AutoCAD for 2D and Rhino for 3D. After I export the line work from Rhino I edit the line weights in Adobe Illustrator and add colors and texture in Adobe Photoshop. The collages on my Instagram are done with Photoshop, in which I crop and resize the pictures, and overlay my hand sketches. The filters are done in Instagram (I use the "Lark" and "Luna" filter most). My website is hosted on squarespace.com.

What would be your dream setup?

In an ideal world, I would have a giant empty studio (which is not my home) with wood floors, high ceilings, a giant desk, and multiple large monitors like these. It'd be nice to have a light box for tracing drawings as well as a large format printer for me to test out different print settings. Also my right hand has been hurting from time to time from holding the mouse for too long, so it'd be great to upgrade to an ergonomic mouse!


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