Philipp Stollenmayer


Philipp Stollenmayer

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Philipp Stollenmayer, and I'm a mobile game designer. My most popular ones are Okay?, Zip Zap, and Pancake – The Game.

What hardware do you use?

I have a 13" MacBook Pro (Mid 2014), and a Magic Mouse. That's it basically, no external screens, no stands, no graphic tablet. Every 100 years, I use my Time Machine for a backup.

I test my games on an iPhone X, an iPhone 6, an iPhone 4S, an iPod 3G, an iPad Mini and an iPad Air 2. On the Android side, I have a Moto X, because it works with Google Daydream, and a Samsung Galaxy S2.

I try to make my games work on pretty old phones – that also makes debugging memory leaks easier.

And what software?

All of my games have been made with Corona SDK. I love it because it's super easy and super fast, and it cuts out all the unimportant and complicated stuff. Box2D physics are built-in, so I don't have to use any plugins. When it comes to programming I don't want anything but the original code, to have as little potential for traps as possible.

For code editing I use Sublime Text, and I always have only two code files: main.lua is the game itself, and data.lua is all data like the levels, texts, colors etc. A bit like HTML and CSS.

But for my next games I'm also learning Unity, to be able to make 3D games.

For image editing, I use Illustrator CS6 and Photoshop CS6, because I can't see why I should pay for those on a subscription basis. Normally I design my icons and stuff in Illustrator, to put together into a spritesheet in Photoshop.

I make the trailers with After Effects CS5.5 and Premiere CS5.5. I hope I can find a nice substitute for After Effects when it stops working because it's too old.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm a huge fan of space, so I have the smallest MacBook Pro, and only the minimum requirements. My hard drive is constantly full, but before I get a new MacBook Pro I have to become friends with USB-C. I like the satisfying magnetic pull of MagSafe too much, and don't want to own 100 adapters.

The Creative Suite is nice, but it is a shame that it can't be bought any more. I hate running costs, so I would rather use CS6 forever, but I fear that it will some day refuse to work anymore. Should try Affinity instead.



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Elisa Bryant


Elisa Bryant

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Elisa Bryant and I am a Melbourne-based visual artist. I am currently working on a series of digital collages with imagery taken from the 1960/70's era.

My collages figures are taken from magazines that are craft based, predominantly knitting and crochet. I source the magazines and pattern books from op shops (which feeds my op shopping addiction beautifully). I find the expressions of the models interesting, and the way that fashion photography was taken back in that era, it’s unlike anything you would see today.

The background images are taken from old books from the same era, mostly garden and flower books. I also love using baking books… cake decorating books are a favourite.

I like to make digital collages as opposed to analogue as I can create smooth edges. My background is in fine art printing and digital imaging, so I can use these skills to help refine my collages and make images that are more lifelike than standard cutout collages. I also like to leave the books and magazines intact – I couldn’t bare to cut up the books, they're so lovely.

What hardware do you use?

To scan the imagery I use the Epson V700 A4 flatbed scanner. My computer is a 27" iMac, and to calibrate I use an i1 Display Pro. It's really important that I balance the colours of these collages – the imagery I use is so old it's mostly discoloured, so colour management is important. I couldn't get a decent print unless I calibrated the monitor regularly.

And what software?

To scan I use the SilverFast software – it's basic, but delivers if you can tweak it correctly. To browse catalogues I use Adobe Bridge, and to collage I use Adobe Photoshop CC.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would be what I used to use when I worked as a fine art printer, which was a custom built PC machine with a NEC monitor (any of them, I just want one please.) I was also lucky enough to use the Microtek 9800XL, which was incredible for art reproduction – this would mean that I could scan larger-scale artworks or imagery, and it's a higher-end scanner designed to scan artwork rather than documents.

If I was REALLY lucky I would add on an Epson P6070 24" fine art printer to the mix so I could start and finish my work without outsourcing.



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Ben Wurgaft


Ben Wurgaft

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Ben Wurgaft. I'm a writer and historian, and currently a Visiting Scholar in Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My work reflects a diverse spread of interests: my doctoral education was in European intellectual history, and my first book in that field is about philosophy, publicness, and the figure of “the intellectual” in the mid-twentieth century. But I’ve also written on food and culture since about 2001, contributing essays to journals and magazines like Gastronomica and Meatpaper, and I sometimes speak at conferences on food, specialty coffee, and the like.

During my first postdoctoral fellowship, at the New School for Social Research, I became very interested in the history and anthropology of science, and my next book is about laboratory-grown meat and the futures of food; this book draws on about four years of ethnographic research, conducted beginning when I was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at MIT. So you could say my tasks are reading, writing, observing with eyes, ears, nose and mouth, interviewing, and thinking.

What hardware do you use?

I write on a late 2011 MacBook Pro with a 13” monitor. It’s usually connected to a Dell 24” external monitor, with the laptop sitting on a Griffin iCurve stand so old (perhaps 2007) that the sticky pads have become unsticky. What now keeps the laptop from sliding off the stand and smashing, are the duct-taped halves of the cork from a 2016 bottle of Donkey and Goat Winery’s Lily’s Pet Nat, which is a really delicious natural wine I drank with a few friends on a farm one late summer evening. Corks from other wines are likely to work just as well, but I recommend this one. The stand keeps my laptop at eye level and I normally keep documents open on both monitors at once, moving between them. Also at eye level is, usually, an open book held in a wire book holder, elevated on a stack of other books. Keeping everything at eye level helps me minimize neck strain. I type on an external Gold Touch split keyboard, which I adopted in grad school to avoid developing carpal tunnel, and it’s working so far. My wrists rest on foam. The foam is wrapped in fabric, and it rests on more foam in the shape of two triangles set at a very low angle; an ergonomics expert I knew in Oakland, California set this up for me in exchange for breakfast for her and her husband. The overall effect is to keep my arms and hands angled in around the elevated split keyboard, a little bit like I’m doing Qi Gong exercises. An Apple Magic Trackpad sometimes occupies my right hand. I have a pair of external speakers for music, about which, more below. I also use an early 2014 iPad for reading PDFs, light Internet browsing, and some writing, although my hands are too large for comfortable typing on most portable device keyboards. The iPad probably plays as much music and displays as many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation as it does PDFs of journal articles.

I write in cafes a fair amount, and bring my laptop (sans external gear) when I do, but I also like to write in notebooks when traveling or doing fieldwork. They also come in handy when I’m at home and want to see if pen and ink can inspire thoughts the keyboard can’t. I have quite a few Muji notebooks (small, black, lined, but also some unlined, for drawing freehand), to the point where I need a new strategy for organizing them; I also like the size and feel of Field Notes journals, as well as moleskins. A good notebook is one that can lie flat, opened, on its own. I write with Muji pens, usually of the .38 size but also sometimes the .5s, .7s, and now the .25. I do own some more expensive pens from Itoya, but my Muji pens are a desert island necessity. About bags: when I’m on foot my day bag is a North Face backpack, a 2006 model called the Slingshot, and while I’m not an especial fan of the company, I’m impressed by the bag’s longevity, and by the fact that when the seams ripped (too many heavily packed trips) the company was willing to patch the bag and send it back to me gratis. I plan to upgrade to the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 fairly soon. When I’m on my bike, which is as often as possible, I carry everything in a 2001 Baileyworks Super Pro courier bag (size L), which was originally hunter orange but which has faded over seventeen years to the color of certain west coast sunsets. I love this bag and recommend Baileyworks bags to anyone who rides. In general, I like bags that last a long time (10+ years), get better with use, and that are not overdesigned – so not too many straps or doohickeys for specialized tasks that I may never perform. When it comes to bags and other bigger-ticket items I’m willing to pay more for items that were made by craftspeople who receive a respectful salary, either in the U.S. or abroad. The material conditions of my labor are by and large positive, and I wish that could be true for everyone who makes the tools I use.

If I’m conducting interviews I either use my iPhone 7 Plus (whose camera is more than adequate for my less-than-pro food photography needs) or a Tascam DR-05 voice recorder, whose sound quality was much better than my old iPhone 5, but is not necessarily better than my iPhone 7. My best recent technology decision was to leave all social media off of my iPhone, and I also find that the large form factor of the iPhone 7 Plus leads me to use the phone less often – because it’s clunky – and this is a blessing.

The human body is not exactly hardware, and the things we do with it are not exactly software, but it’s worth saying that the work-hours I log are supported by exercise of various kinds. The key to my writing practice isn’t my ergonomic setup but, rather, hours of yoga, hiking, swimming, running, and cycling. I’m very lucky that my life and body currently support this routine, because I know how much my work would suffer without it. I try to log short periods of desk time (45min-2 hours) interrupted by activity – a run, some yoga practice, a bike ride, or a stroll to the kitchen to make coffee or tea. This may seem inefficient, but it is the opposite; my time away from the computer is when things crystallize, and then I return and write them down. About coffee: because I need my coffee “massaged” (as a friend put it) I have massage gear: I heat water in a Breville electric kettle, pour it into a Hario gooseneck kettle, and then use this to pour the water (I’m skipping a few steps here) over coffee weighed on an electric scale and ground in a Capresso burr grinder. This coffee sits in a filter in a clever dripper, either one with a pressure plate at its base or with a mechanical lever system. I have a wire travel coffee dripper, and filters that travel with me if I think there won’t be good coffee on the road.

I use Passport external hard drives to back everything up, because I have a cumulative mistrust of cloud storage.

And what software?

Here my old-fashioned tendencies, and failure to learn new things, show themselves. I still use Word 2008 for my daily word processing, even though it is full of distracting panels and options I don’t use. I listen to music on iTunes, despite its myriad frustrations. I browse the Internet with Firefox. And I make very little use of apps on my phone or iPad (except for Merlin Bird ID, produced by ornithologists at Cornell, to identify birds) largely because my love of learning new things doesn’t seem to extend to technological tools.

I have writing methods that mimic the functions of software, though. One of them I copied from John McPhee, one of my major inspirations in nonfiction writing. When I’m trying to compose, I write down all the units of research or thinking for the writing project in question (facts, anecdotes, stories, theoretical claims) on index cards or other pieces of paper. These I place in separate envelopes, each marked with a major organizational element — perhaps a chapter — of the work in question. This means that when I want to work on a chapter, I open its envelope and look at the contents, forgetting about everything else. I spread them out on a table and move them around, and allow structure to emerge. Or is this hardware? It’s paper, anyway.

I wrote my first books to the music of The Tallis Scholars, Zoe Keating, Brian Eno, and Roomful of Teeth (especially Caroline Shaw’s Partita for EightVoices). I listen to a lot of ambient and contemporary composed music while I write.

What would be your dream setup?

My modest dream is that my current gear lasts me a few more years, because personal electronics have a terrible environmental footprint and entail terrible labor practices. I try to keep my stuff running for as long as possible, and to repair rather than replace. I’d also like better writing software than Word, better music-listening software than iTunes (wouldn’t we all?), and a well-lit office space with a few friendly plants, with the aforementioned coffee massage equipment nearby. I plan to adopt a setup in which different functions are disaggregated from my laptop so that I listen to music on a stereo and treat the computer as a word processor only, while writing. It would be nice if my phone were an “old-fashioned” cell phone rather than a smart phone, but I travel a fair amount and find the smart phone useful.

But overall, the most important tools for my work are intangible and, in a sense, intimate: a reasonably good mood, minimal emotional distraction, energy, and a rested and exercised body. And, of course, coffee.



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Kamina Vincent


Kamina Vincent

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Kamina Vincent! Hi!

I’m the Producer at Mountains, and we recently released Florence on iOS and Android. I take care of the project schedule, the team, and general business of running the company. I drink a lot of tea and, when big looming tasks occur, I rely on a lot of chocolate.

Outside of my work at Mountains, I mentor women and other underrepresented people and speak at various events (GCAP, Get into Games Ballarat, and others). I’m passionate about inclusion and diversity and use these opportunities to demonstrate that there are different roles and people within the games industry.

I was a recipient of the inaugural Film Victoria Women In Games Fellowship. This allowed me to not
only travel to embed in some amazing companies (Thank you Media Molecule, ustwo, and Stoic Studios!), but also enrol in diplomas focusing on learning project management, business, leadership and management.

I’m also the volunteer coordinator for Games Connect Asia Pacific, a game developer conference held here in Melbourne during Melbourne International Games Week.

I’ve recently been diagnosed with ADHD which has helped me understand how my brain works and getting systems in place to help me get things done!

What hardware do you use?

I use a MacBook Air at work with a second monitor. I’ve got the laptop resting on an iPad Pro box to get it to the right height. This all sits on a standing desk that I’m using to prop up my monitor but I’ve not used it standing yet.

I love the swipe gestures and multiple spaces/desktops. I don’t know if it’s a Mac specific thing but it works for me, especially with the Magic Mouse.

I have a physical notebook that comes with me everywhere! Everything goes into that book. Turns out it’s a great way to cope with some of the issues my ADHD brings up. Which means that I have a lot of pens. My favourite are the four colour pens (Pink! Purple! Light Blue! Lime Green!) which means that I have a fast visual guide to tasks, meetings, actions, and notes for myself. I am trying to be more digital though!

I have a whiteboard on my desk that I use for bandaids (public declarations of tasks that I just need to rip), and larger tasks that need a checklist. It’s a way for me to communicate with and be held accountable to the team about what I’m doing (and struggling with!).

When I travel for work, I’ll use either the Mountains iPad Pro, work laptop, or my own. There’s always something that needs to be done!

Of course, my phone (Samsung S7) is always with me!

And what software?

Does Google count? I do spend a decent chunk of my time using it to find solutions to problems, answers to my questions, and learning.

Related to that, I use Google Drive. A lot of my work involves a lot of docs and spreadsheets.

Calendars are super important to me. I try to plan out my week on the Friday before and that way I have a visual guide to how much time I can allocate to each task.

At Mountains I use Slack, Trello, Google Drive, and Spotify. Music plays a big part in helping me focus!

Being able to create spaces/desktops is super helpful for me. On my external monitor, I have a desktop with my Trello board and a calendar for the day so I can easily see what I’m doing and when. The next monitor desktop is for whatever task I’m currently working on. The laptop monitor is for any other sites I need to support that work. Spotify is always the first, then Slack, then work, and occasionally I’ll have a social media desktop.

For my personal projects, I’m currently migrating to Asana. It’s a very similar idea to my work set up: different spaces/desktops depending on task, Spotify, calendar, and a notebook. I use the Chrome extension Forest, which is based on the Pomodoro technique and blocks access to any sites that I haven’t whitelisted. It helps me think of what I need going into a task, rather than just diving straight in!

What would be your dream setup?

I’m pretty flexible about where I can work. I need some noise to keep me focused and a space that’s dedicated to work or study so I don’t get distracted. I enjoy working from cafes, especially if I’m part of a study group.

Mountains is based in the Arcade, which is a co-working space for game developers. It’s great because I can ask people for help and generally chat to people about what’s going on. It’s also close enough for me to cycle which means I’m forced to exercise each day!

I’d love to have another monitor and more fairy lights everywhere but I’m pretty happy with my work setup!



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Adam Roberts


Adam Roberts

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Adam Roberts, and I produce Versioning, a daily subscription newsletter for tech folk. This curates the best resources for devs and designers every day, as well as specific posts/emails on relevant and emerging subjects, plus fun stuff like media guides. It's a mix of subscriber-only content (people join for a monthly/annual fee), and free content available for everyone.

Basically: I open a lot of tabs to find the best stuff, so you don't have to. I also run a few other weekly newsletters for SitePoint, focused on blockchain, back-end dev, and design/UX, respectively.

I'm a New Zealander living in Melbourne, Australia. I like Star Wars, NBA, fancy craft beer (and brewing).

What hardware do you use?

I have the requisite 13" Retina MacBook Pro checks system report from 2015. It's fast enough, pretty enough, and capacious enough for my needs, even when I've got 50+ Chrome tabs full of advertising open. I have a 4K monitor, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I don't need or want more. I'm a simple man! I used to have my Mac in front of me to use as a keyboard/trackpad, but for some reason that's incredibly harsh on my neck – don't do this!

Also important: I have a set of Bose Quiet Comfort noise-cancelling headphones for work, a set of AIAIAI headphones for home and transit, and then some $5 earbuds for when I don't want either of those over-ear ones. I sometimes do an impression of someone DJing (at home!), so the AIAIAI are great for this too. They also look amazing.

I have an iPhone 6 which is a little slow but is still going strong! I don't have a case because I'm incredibly boring and am unlikely to drop it. I might get a new phone but I just don't know whether I'm ready for a detailed 3D scan of my face to be somewhere, even if it isn't sent to a server as Apple promises.

And what software?

I spend the majority of my time inside a browser – currently Chrome because I keep putting off changing to Firefox. Since most of my time is spent finding a link, absorbing that link, then – if I like it – moving that link to a doc to write about it, I've found it much simpler to keep all those steps in the one app, rather than using a native text editor to write. I write in Markdown because simplicity, and use StackEdit as my .md editor for the newsletter, because it has a great preview function I can use to paste formatted text somewhere else. For non-newsletter writing, I'll write in .md in Atom, purely because of the gentle vibe I've cultivated there.

I have many great extensions in Chrome!

The Great Suspender, which 'suspends' any tab that hasn't been touched for a while. This stops sites with a lot of scripts and other guff from killing your computer, and can act as a prompt to decide whether you actually care about a given site.

Tab Counter has a little number indicating how many tabs you have open. It too serves as a subtle prompt to take a break from CMD+click for a while.

OneTab lets you gather up every tab you have open and chuck them into a list. These three extensions make a powerful team!

If I see something interesting in my downtime on my phone or a desktop, I'll save it into Pocket with a 'versioning' tag. I'll begin the day by going through that list. I also find content in my email, in Feedly (RSS FOREVER), on Reddit, on Twitter (Twitter lists + TweetDeck = good Twitter). Also, Slack groups, also other places. I try to keep my sources diverse and a mixture of algorithms and people.

I use Substack's CMS to prepare Versioning. I use Campaign Monitor for other newsletters. Both are fine?

Anything plan-ey, or collaborative, I'll write in Google Docs, then share it with other ~ stakeholders ~, then discuss it, then never open it again. I have a lot of docs.

macOS-wise:

I use the Display Menu menubar app to make my screen high-res and therefore tiny and hard to read. I know a dev who worked with such a set-up, peered at his screen from 6 inches away. He was a really excellent dev and so I’m hoping the set-up will help.

I use BetterTouchTool to toggle windows to different sizes with a keyboard shortcut. This unbelievably handy tool lets you do things like full-screen a window or divide the screen in half between two windows in a couple of key presses. I love it with all my heart.

I also have a couple other menubar apps that help keep me sane. Aware displays how long I've used the computer without stepping away, and Degrees displays the current outside temperature, so when I step away from the computer and head outside I know what to wear.

Oh, and F.lux plays with the color of my Mac's screen to stop it keeping me awake forever.

I'm also writing a non-work-related book, and for that I use Scrivener.

iOS:

I use Oak Kevin Rose's meditation app, for meditation and breathing exercises. Sometimes I do these on the tram to work, because I'm weird.

Vesper is where I write notes.

Overcast is how I listen to podcasts.

Remote Mouse is an iOS/macOS app that I use to control my Mac from far away.

I also use the standard stuff people always use: Fantastical for calendar-ing, LastPass for password-ing. Oh, I use AnyList for composing and sharing grocery lists which is kinda life-changing.

What would be your dream setup?

I know everyone is terrified of AI taking over, and I kind of am too, but I'd love to have a little AI friend (or a real friend, but the logistics are harder) looking over my shoulder all the time to be like, "na, don't bother reading that, the headline's misleading" or "yeah that's a pretty good pun, but do you remember that Biggie song? You know how the lyrics are kinda similar to the situation with Uber? You see where I'm going with this…? Right!?" I'd like that.

Or, more realistically: a slightly better version of what I currently have.



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Dan Golding


Dan Golding

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Dan Golding, and I do a bunch things. I'm primarily an academic at Swinburne University here in Melbourne, Australia, where I teach and research in media studies.

I'm an author. My next book is tentatively titled Star Wars After Lucas, and it looks at everything that Disney has done with the franchise since taking over in 2012, with some deep analyses of The Force Awakens, Rogue One, Rebels, and The Last Jedi. It will be released in early 2019 from the University of Minnesota Press. My previous book was called Game Changers, which was coauthored with Leena van Deventer, and was about gender and videogames. It was published by Affirm Press in 2016.

I also make video essays, and I have a YouTube channel that recently reached over one million views. I'm one of three hosts for Art of the Score, a podcast about film music. It's super fun. I'm also now the host of an ABC (in Australia, not the American ABC) series called 'What Is Music'. You can see our first little video, which is a preview for the kinds of things we're going to be doing, about the Star Wars theme, here.

Finally, I'm also a composer. I wrote the soundtrack to a fun local multiplayer PlayStation 4 game called Push Me Pull You a few years ago (it was made by the same people who are making that Goose game). You can listen to my soundtrack album here.

What hardware do you use?

I'm on a MacBook Pro, which I use to make pretty much everything described above, including writing, research, recording, video editing and music. I also use an iPhone X, which is great, though I'm a little creeped out by the facial recognition tech, which has reshaped the way I think about my phone. I use a pair of Sony noise cancelling headphones, which are their entry level cans so I'm looking to upgrade eventually, though I like them a lot for now. Noise cancelling headphones are pretty essential for getting into my writing zone.

I use a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 keyboard (though a slightly older version than the newer ones, which also look ace), which is just about the best digital keyboard I've used. I love being able to control my music software from the same interface that I'm playing with. It just gets out of the way and allows digital music-making to be one step closer to using old fashioned instruments. I also use an old Behringer vocal microphone for my video essays and vocals. It's nice, but the time has probably come to upgrade.

And what software?

For writing (especially long-form work like books and theses), I love Scrivener. I use Logic Pro X for my music and audio recording, and a wide variety of plug-ins and virtual instruments. My favourite is Cinematic Studio's Strings, which are really beautiful and naturalistic, and made here in Australia, too. For writing, I don't know where I'd be without Spotify, too, on which I have more than 36 hours worth of film music playlisted by decade and ready to go. For keeping track of my academic research, I use Zotero, which is free and open source.

What would be your dream setup?

I can't wait to get my music-making stuff into a new room after I move house, with a dedicated screen and some beautiful studio monitors that I'm shopping around for. To be able to drop my laptop in and out of that set up will be just fantastic.

I'll also be throwing a new audio interface into the mix there for recording my voice, along with that new vocal microphone, so creating new video essays (and there are more in the works) should be just as easy. I'll also be getting a wireless charging mat in there for my iPhone and wireless devices.



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Diana Smith


Diana Smith

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Diana Smith. There’s a chance you might know me from my CSS art, but what I am in my daily life is a UI Engineer, or front-end specialist, or web developer. The industry hasn’t really reached a consensus on the proper nomenclature, so in the meantime I can be described as a wrangler of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. Or, someone who works on computers but who won’t be able to help with network problems.

What hardware do you use?

At home I use a Lenovo Flex 4. When I’m not at home I use a work-issued Dell Latitude E6440 laptop, and two 27” monitors (one Dell, one Samsung).

At work I have a very massive pair of Sennheiser HD 380 Pros. At home I have some very lightweight LoHi bluetooth earbuds to which the phrase “so comfortable, you can’t even feel them” applies, because I often forget they’re on my head as I walk out of the house and into my car – then two blocks later I’ll suddenly hear the beeping as they’ve lost connection.

My Motorola Moto G Plus phone is a bit of a crossover item, as I use the Symantec VIP Access for two-factor authentication when using the work VPN. I’m not required to actually use my phone for traditional phone purposes like talking, so outside of authentication it’s mostly used for gmail and news browsing.

And what software?

Now that the lines are so blurred between sites and apps, it’s sometimes hard to tell what qualifies, but in general:

Home and Work: Chrome, Atom. Gmail/Hangouts. And Spotify, just for when I can’t control the noises in my environment.

Work Only: Firefox, SourceTree, Outlook, Skype, Slack, JIRA.

Home Only: Netflix, Reddit.

What would be your dream setup?

Here is my terrible secret – fancy hardware or software is totally wasted on me.

My Lenovo ideapad? When I was researching and shopping for laptops, I insisted how important it was for my delicate artistic visions that I get the one with:

  1. a touch screen monitor, that:
  2. swiveled 360 degrees to transform itself into a tablet.

It’s been almost two years since I’ve had the thing, and I’ve used both of these features exactly zero times.

The Sennheisers? Don’t get me wrong, they sound fantastic. But their primary purpose is to be huge. I work facing a window, so if someone were to come up from behind me and try to engage in conversation while I was listening to loud music through microscopic earbuds, it might lead them to believe that I was simply ignoring them. I am not. Hence why the large headphones are important. So really, you could slap a huge pair of $5 headphones on my head and I’d be happy.

My old digital art-making software that was expensively subscription-based? Unsubscribed. Have not missed it.

The times in my life in which I’ve been the most artistically prolific have not been when I’ve been surrounded by the finest art-making materials – instead, they were inspired by restrictions like “create art using only two colors” or “draw something using only the glitchy transparency effects of Facebook’s Graffiti app”.

Even if it’s not expensive – or even if it’s free, I have a weird aversion to becoming reliant on things that make life seem too easy. As soon as I felt myself falling in love with React.js and Vue.js, I cut myself off of from them and put myself on a strict vanilla JS diet. My fear was that I would soon forget how to do anything without the help of a framework. I loved both of them, but I just used the lessons they taught me and moved onward. As a result, my JS projects are now even more satisfying to build.

Note: I should probably insert a disclaimer here about how this “too easy” mentality doesn’t apply to everything in life – I ain’t exactly complaining about indoor plumbing being too convenient, nor do I insist on personally foraging for all my food.

However, on the more modern side of life – I really do love that despite its sophistication, technology is becoming more and more affordable and accessible.

My amazing job that pays my bills was made possible by the experience I amassed via free software and free online resources. My tasks don’t require a beefy video card or tons of RAM – they simply require my undivided attention.

The art that I make in my free time is completely digital, which means that it requires no physical resources other than the calories I put into my body to allow me the miniscule amount of energy that it takes to type. That never ceases to blow my mind – being an artist in this day and age means I don’t even need materials like paint or brushes – art can literally be conjured out of thin air.

And if I ever am at a loss for helpful techniques with which to help me better do my job, I can use any of the internet-enabled devices within my reach to search the entire internet for all of the freaking information in the entire freaking world.

Seriously, what more could I ask for?

If I were hard-pressed to name a dream setup… I don’t know, a few wireless monitors at home, maybe? But I truly don’t know if I’d even use them.

There’s probably an argument to be made that this isn’t the healthiest approach – that I’m not accepting the possibility of better methods, or that I’m complacent with mediocrity. And I would then be the first to admit that yes, I am often this dog.

But I am very much not on fire – I’m simply working on a modestly-sized laptop from my non-ergonomic couch. And my creativity always seems to be the most sparked by a logistical challenge. So I kind of never want to be without at least some sort of obstacle. And that works just fine for me.



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Parker Higgins


Parker Higgins

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Parker Higgins, and I'm the Director of Special Projects at the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Before that, I was the Director of Copyright Activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I also an a 2017 alum of the Recurse Center, which is a wonderful programming community that helped me learn a lot of what I do and continues to be a source of inspiration.

I tweet too often at @xor and blog too seldom at my own site. I'm also a big fan of the microblogging software Mastodon, and I'm on the fediverse at @xor@mastodon.xyz.

When I'm not on the clock, I try to work on projects that reflect my thinking about big ideas like transparency, creativity, access to knowledge, and free culture. That sounds kind of lofty, but a lot of times the projects are pretty small. For the last few years, they've frequently manifested as Twitter bots.

A few years ago I found out that the US Department of Agriculture had a collection of thousands of watercolor paintings of fruits and nuts, which were beautiful — and digitized — but not available online beyond thumbnails. So I sent a Freedom of Information Act request for more info, wrote about the whole thing, and ultimately got the images released. I basically learned to program in order to upload them all to Wikimedia Commons and, eventually, run a Twitter bot (@pomological) that posts an image at random every three hours.

Another example is a site I run called FOIA The Dead, which started as a personal project but is now an official Freedom of the Press Foundation project. That one scrapes the New York Times obituary section each day and sends an automated request to the FBI for any files it has on the subjects of those obits. (There's a privacy exemption to the Freedom of Information Act that applies to living people, so those files would not have been available before that day.) Most of the time the FBI says it doesn't have anything, but through the power of automation I have gotten dozens of files making up thousands of pages. The most exciting part has been connecting with family members of people who didn't realize their parents or grandparents had come under FBI surveillance. I can't talk about all of those cases, but I was interviewed on the WNYC show Note To Self about one of them.

Beyond that, there's the emoji trainscape bot @choochoobot, some archiving work that I do on the job, and weird little things like spelling out words with three-letter airport codes.

What hardware do you use?

I do almost everything on a ThinkPad T460s that I specced out as far as I could afford to about two years ago. It's a really sturdy and reliable machine, and I intend to stick with it as long as I possibly can. Most of my work is not very computation-heavy, but I have felt the constraints of the machine when dabbling with machine-learning stuff, for example.

I'm a relatively late convert to the iPhone, but eventually the camera got good enough, and Android's claim to free software purity got bad enough, that I made the leap. I was happiest with an SE, but it eventually slowed down to the point that I had to make the upgrade to an iPhone 8. I'd like to think about my phone as little as possible.

When I'm shooting pictures I use an Olympus OM-D E-M10, mostly because it was Wirecutter's pick as a midrange mirrorless. But I've been really happy with the photos I've been able to get and have learned a lot about lenses and stuff.

All of my bots and my personal site and other projects live on a DigitalOcean box out there in the cloud somewhere, with a little bit of S3 thrown in for good measure.

And what software?

My desktop runs Xubuntu, which is of course a version of the popular Ubuntu OS with the lightweight Xfce desktop environment. For a long time I've been vaguely interested in "upgrading" to a more hardcore desktop situation, probably with a tiling window manager. Then again, at this point I mostly have open a browser with lots of tabs and a tmux session with lots of tabs, so it just doesn't make that big a difference.

For editing text, I usually use the very basic gedit program. When I'm writing code, vim. I've written some prose in vim but I'm still not yet facile enough with it and it kind of gets in my way. I'd like to learn enough to switch over all the way.

My blog runs on WordPress, which is truly inspirational as a piece of software, as an organization, and as a community. It's more than I need, though, and now that Github offers HTTPS for custom domains, I'm more likely than ever to switch over to a static site generator hosted there.

When I'm writing code, it's almost exclusively Python, with a little bit of JavaScript thrown in. When I was writing gotham-grabber, I got really excited about the browser automation stuff that you can do with Puppeteer, so I had to do a little bit of Node.

What would be your dream setup?

Honestly I feel like I'm close! I'd maybe get a nicer keyboard and I could always get a new camera lens, but I personally feel like I'm past the point where hardware or software is holding me back. What I need is a library full of reference books so I can learn everything that's already available to me.



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