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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Georgina Voss


Georgina Voss

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Georgina. I live in South London. What I do – gestures expansively – is research-intensive projects (writing [essays, journalism], performance, installation, sculpture) about the politics of large-scale complex technological and industrial systems; and teaching about the same.

I'm co-founder and lead/director of two studios: Supra Systems Studio, based at the London College of Communication's Design School, University of the Arts London, where I'm a senior lecturer; and Strange Telemetry, in residence at Somerset House Studios. My PhD is in the anthropology of deviance, and industrial economics.

What hardware do you use?

Nearly all work is done on 2014 MacBook Pro which I am praying will never ever ever die; phone is a rose gold iPhone which I will likely replace with a fairphone or similar when its time is up. I tend to work with a big external monitor when I need to do large, time-intensive pieces of work. I've got a series of A5 and A4 notebooks for making notes and scribbling in, working through ideas and getting them out of my head rather than to capture complete forms for later. I've had the same workhorse Panasonic Olympus dictaphone for over a decade.

I've done projects working with digital fabrication/additive manufacturing, through residencies at Autodesk's Pier 9, and RAMLAB. The Stratsys Objec30 printer, Coherent Metabeam plasma cutter (slicing through metal with fire, +++), and the enormous OMAX waterjet have a place in my heart. I may yet end up in a civil partnership with a Panasonic Valk Welding robot. (I suspect one reason I keep doing work on large machinery is as an excuse to spend time with large machinery).

My housemate has a range of king-level coffee equipment including a Technivorm MoccaMaster which, though I do not own, I enthusiastically use. There's also a short-throw projector at home which I've used for developing on performance/installation works that have involved projection; and, when rigged up to the PS4, for games and films. I live in M&S HeatGen when it gets cold.

And what software?

I find it impossible to write in anything other than Word, primarily for the split-screen function. I use Scrivener for mapping out writing projects and storing references; Dropbox for slabs of documents; and a series of spreadsheets in Excel and GDocs for planning all the things. I persist in making slides in PowerPoint, against the advice and disappointment of my design colleagues.

I've sporadically used a range of visual/photogrammetry tools – Photoshop, Illustrator, Maya, ReCap, Fusion 360. Other programs — Ableton, MaxMSP, Blender — I have weak kitten-like skills around, but I'd like to get more comfortable with.

Clue is the single best software tool I can think of, tying together my messy sense of time with the realities of my physical form; and was also the thing that made me realise that what I'd worried was an ongoing glandular fever relapse was actually pre-menstrual exhaustion. Thanks, Clue!

What would be your dream setup?

Universal healthcare and education, open borders, an alternative internet, better battery life. A gigantic warehouse big enough to do enormous work in; a huge city; also, a forest.



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Jess Allison


Jess Allison

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello! I'm Jess. Sometimes known as Jalli. I've been a Digital Producer forever (okay, ten years) but I've recently taken a side-step into Service Design and become a Delivery Manager at Paper Giant. It's ace.

In most iterations of my career, I've helped creative people bring their work to fruition — graphic designers, web developers, photographers, film editors, slashies, and now service designers. My superpower is finding the delicate balance between providing guidance and process, while leaving space for them to do their thing, and communicating Just The Right Amount to any clients and other stakeholders.

I'm an eternal optimist, and yet I'm always playing out worse case scenarios. You might think these things are mutually exclusive but this person put it well: "…sometimes just knowing you'll be fine regardless of how things go, can take the edge off the uncertainty and actually alleviate some anxiety."

I'm annoyingly organised.

In my spare time I listen to podcasts, take photos, and generally try to have a positive influence on the world. Some days that means making a donation, and others it's a batch of choc chip cookies.

I have an ESFJ personality (I think), and Enneagram Type Two (for sure). My spirit animal is the squirrel.

What hardware do you use?

I'm currently rocking a 13" MacBook Air and an iPhone 6. Part of me wants to try Android when this iPhone dies, but I'm married to Apple and the divorce would be messy.

My Fuji X-T10 was purposefully too advanced for my level of photography when I bought it, and has helped me lift my game.

And what software?

My essentials are:

  • G Suite for mail, calendar, docs and spreadsheets.
  • TextEdit for writing basically everything before it becomes an email or graduates to Google Docs.
  • Slack for work chat, keeping up with old colleagues/friends, and the /remind function for timely to-dos
  • 1Password for password management, synced via Dropbox across the iOS app and Chrome browser extension.
  • Dropbox for personal file storage, including cloud photo backups.
  • Trello for project management, which extends to side projects, domestic, and life goals.
  • SizeUp to quickly resize and position windows. I use this constantly.
  • Lightroom/Photoshop for photo editing and image manipulation.
  • Sublime Text for the rare occasions I need to code.

Chrome extensions:

I also sign into Chrome to sync my bookmarks and browsing history so I can refer to things between devices.

My iOS favourites are:

  • Sleep Cycle to track my sleeping patterns
  • Notes app for personal to-dos (super lo-fi but it works well!)
  • iBooks to download samples of books I want to read, then eventually the books themselves
  • Pinterest for creating personal mood boards, house inspiration, fashion stuff, and saving recipes
  • Out of Milk for the shared grocery list
  • Google Keep for the shared to-do list (films to watch, exhibitions to check out, photo excursion ideas, bars/restaurants to try…)

It sounds like chaos but these apps and systems all play a part in helping me Get Things Done… and fend against those pesky worst case scenarios.

What would be your dream setup?

Digitally, it would be unlimited internet speed and cloud storage.

Ergonomically, I would love a standing desk (hey, if it's good enough for Hemingway), more plants and less screen time.

Stopping to think about my dream setup just made me realise how achievable it is. I'm going to start by wrapping this up and hopping off the computer!



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Taylor Quinn


Taylor Quinn

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Taylor Quinn, I'm a full-time online variety broadcaster and illustrator/emote artist on Twitch as a Twitch Partnered Streamer.

What hardware do you use?

I use a good amount of equipment to stream and draw.

Starting with the necessary tools to illustrate, something simple like my portable Bamboo tablet works wonders, and at home I use a Cintiq 22HD, which is not necessary when just starting but an amazing tool to have!

On the gaming side of things my Astro headset, and SteelSeries keyboard are prime tools. I also use Steelseries Arctis 7 headphones, depending on my location at the time – I travel quite a bit!

When it comes to my PC to do both aspects of my career, I run a home-built rig that lets me stream in high quality 1080p with no hassle, including an Intel E3-1231 v3 processor & ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1060 Mini graphics card. Other than the tech itself, a good chair for support, and a smudge guard glove for my Cintiq are my main tools!

And what software?

Software for illustration consists of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, though I'm more comfortable working in Photoshop. I have custom-made brushes for certain jobs, as well as purchased fonts to use for design. An important thing to remember when working in design is that you pay for good work, and you need to always check the usage rights of any image or font you may be purchasing!

Gaming software ranges depending on the game, and for actual streaming purposes I use OBS, which is an excellent free of charge broadcasting software. I also use Streamlabs & Nightbot as primary streaming tools; they allow alerts, and addition content to be included in stream chat as well as live on screen!

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would probably include an office of my own, and a better lighting rig. Right now my lighting is a simple bulb behind my desk and room lights. I would also love to have one of the Elgato Green Screens that store away when not in use, but they're currently out of stock for Canadian purchase. Otherwise, I'm really happy with what I have!

A fun fact about me is that 10% of my income goes to children's wellness organizations like Child's Play, as well as animal rescues like NYC Second Chance Rescue & MotleyZooCrew; I do charity streams to raise funds for organizations like these regularly!



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Nelson Minar


Nelson Minar

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a software engineer, these days more of a gentleman programmer. I work on a variety of projects and am interested in maps, open data, and data visualization. I tend to follow technologies that allow you to quickly build amazing things; mapping reached that inflection point a few years ago. These days I'm getting up to speed on machine learning; it's amazing how easy it is to bash together a workmanlike learning system. I'm probably best known for my work on web services like the Google AdWords API. The most recent public thing I released is Wanderings, a lightweight location tracker for creating a personal record of where you've been.

What hardware do you use?

I sit in front of Windows machines. Generic Intel desktop with a fancy gamer GPU and a single big 3440×1440 monitor that supports G-Sync for nice variable framerate display. For a laptop I have a 2017 Razer Blade, also a gamer system. I like gaming and the GPU doubles as a machine learning platform. Also gamer hardware seems like higher quality fit-and-finish.

I used to use Macs but gave up on them a couple of years ago when macOS kept getting worse. PC hardware is definitely not as nice as Apple hardware, even the Razer Blade is a poor second to the best older MacBook Pros. End of the day all I care about is if it runs a web browser and pretty much anything can do that; Leonard Lin's use of Chromebooks caught my attention.

A lot of my real work takes place on Linux boxes running Ubuntu. I have a couple of headless servers at home and a leased bare metal server in a data center in Kansas City. I've got an iPhone in my pocket and an iPad that mostly just runs the Kindle app. Home entertainment runs off of Sonos and a Roku running Plex. I use Ubiquiti networking gear including a really elaborate fixed wireless setup to deal with rural geography.

And what software?

A web browser is what's front-and-center 90% of the time I'm working. I mostly use Firefox, switched from Chrome when Quantum came out. 1Password is essential for managing logins. I rely on uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger to remove unwanted crap from web pages. Once I quit working on ads at Google I became zealous about blockers. The intrusions and malware shoveled into our web browsers now is unconscionable.

I have a few UI customizations that are essential to me. One is to bind Caps Lock to search Google via an AutoHotkey script. Now that big fat key on the home row does something useful; copy some text and hit Caps Lock and boom, up pops a browser window. I also use Hain for launching programs, I type Win-Space and the first few letters of the program name and it launches. I miss Alfred for doing this on macOS, it is really lovely.

One of the ways I make Windows work for me is I run Ubuntu in it via the Windows Subsystem for Linux. WSL is an amazing accomplishment by Microsoft. It's a full Linux kernel API emulator that runs actual Linux binaries under the Windows kernel. Some things like filesystems are a bit wonky but in general I have a fully working Ubuntu environment for my Windows box.

When I'm writing code I use Sublime Text 2 with minimal customizations. I really just want a simple editor; back in the 90s I was a big emacs nerd but now think its tty interface, awkward keys, and overcustomizability are all damaging throwbacks to a bad old era before humane user interfaces. Sublime Text 2 is fine and looks nice. I use Simplenote for quick notes where I don't want to think about where the file is saved and mg when I need a tty editor in Linux.

I mostly program in Python 3 and seem to be using pandas a lot for data processing. I'm also a huge fan of Jupyter Notebooks, they are revolutionary for sharing data science computation. (Check out Observable if you do JavaScript).

Most of my map work is custom code backed by PostGIS. GeoJSON.io is great for sharing geodata on a web page map and occasionally I bust out QGIS for a desktop app. My visualizations are usually in JavaScript using Leaflet or Mapbox GL JS.

Slack is my social media of choice, although of course I'm on Twitter and Facebook too. A few Discord servers too; Discord is marketed as Slack for gamers but it works fine for other communities too. I spend a lot of time on MetaFilter and Reddit, that's how I keep up with new stuff. Also belong.io.

For publishing I still run an old school blog using the ancient Perl engine Blosxom. But I write much more sloppily and prolifically on my secret work blog which is hosted at wordpress.com. I also run a blog of interesting links which is a Pinboard account published in various forms, notably a Twitter feed.

What would be your dream setup?

The most important problem to solve in consumer Internet right now is secure logins. Passwords are a terrible form of authentication. A password agent like 1Password or LastPass helps but they are clumsy kludges. "Guess which HTML form element is a password and fake a keyboard paste to fill a random string from a third party program"; is that really the best login system we can imagine? Of course not. Also it terrifies me how tiny those two companies are that literally hold the keys to everyone's kingdoms; I assume they've both been compromised. It's a great shame OpenID and Mozilla Persona failed, they had excellent technical solutions for authentication. I was about ready to say "fuck it" and let Facebook manage all my logins but given how untrustworthy they've turned out to be that's clearly not reasonable. I've thought about starting a product company for authentication but it's not really a technical problem, it's a business strategy problem. And it's a business with an enormous liability risk attached to it.

I also wish thin client cloud computing would become a reality. I spend far too much time thinking about where my data is or where various programs I use are installed or configured. (Shout out to FreeFileSync, a good interactive tool for shuttling files around.) Can't all my stuff just be in the cloud already? The gaming world has kind of solved that with various cloud gaming services. You'd think the latency and bandwidth requirements would make gaming the worst candidate for a remote UI but it actually seems to work (although I don't use it). I'd love the same thing for my desktop environment. There's ways to kludge it together but I don't know anyone who works that way 24/7.

I'm looking forward to the 1990s dream of ubiquitous computing becoming a reality. I don't have much in the way of smart home devices and the ones I do are garbage. But some day I'm going to be able to talk to the thin air and express my intent and a beautiful display will hover in front of my face to show me what I asked for. We still have a long way to go on voice recognition and inference for that, not to mention projection technology.



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Steve O’Hear


Steve O'Hear

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a tech journalist at TechCrunch, focusing on European startups, companies and products. It's my second spell at TechCrunch after trying my hand at startup life to co-found a VC-backed company back in 2012.

I've also written for numerous other publications, including ZDnet, Macworld, The Guardian, and ReadWrite. In 2006 I wrote, directed and edited the documentary 'In Search of the Valley'. Prior to journalism I was an e-learning consultant, web developer and digital arts teacher.

Outside of my day job I write and produce music, and this is a big part of my setup. I'm currently finishing up an album with friends that I plan to release later this year. This will hopefully include a run of vinyl, and possibly a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the mastering process and album's release.

What hardware do you use?

At the heart of everything I do is a MacBook Pro (2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with Retina display) in Space Grey. It has the 'Touch Bar,' which I rarely use, and is undoubtedly overpriced for the spec. However, I've always preferred Macs — even sticking with Apple through the mid 90s when things weren't good — and my home recording studio is built around the music software Logic Pro X, meaning I'm somewhat locked into Apple hardware.

The MacBook is also my writing tool of choice in my job as a journalist, although, apart from the need to run Skype and a few other bits of software, I could happily get away with a Chromebook or any laptop that can run a modern browser.

The rest of my studio is made up of a very old 'Firewire' audio interface (the original MOTU 828), a pair of now discontinued HHB Circle 5 passive monitor speakers, a cheap Cambridge Audio amp, an outboard valve compressor (the original TLA Ivory 5021) that I mainly use as a DI box for guitars, and a Rode NT1-A microphone. Notably, I don't have an outboard mixer (I ditched my digital 16 channel mixer years ago) as I prefer to mix 'in the box' (ie in software).

Most recently I added an Avantone MixCube Active mono speaker. It is a modern take on a so-called 'grotbox' — a speaker designed to mimic lower‑quality, consumer‑style speakers so that you'll have a better idea how your mix will sound when heard in typical real‑world listening situations. Or, put another way, a speaker that sounds so crap it will make you work a lot harder to get your final mixes sounding good, even on speakers that have little or no bass response and tend to really overemphasise midrange frequencies.

I'm a keyboard player so I have a few musical instruments and effects. This includes a basic USB MIDI keyboard (IK Multimedia iRig 37), a tonewheel organ simulator (Ferrofish B4000+), a Leslie Speaker simulator (Neo Instruments Vent II), and an analogue synth (Arturia MicroBrute). I also have an analogue drum machine with a step sequencer that I bought in a sale and have hardly touched since (Korg volca beats).

The other crucial tool for my day job is my trusty iPhone SE. Despite being a Mac person, this is only my second iPhone, having previously used phones by BlackBerry, Nokia, and Handspring/Palm because of my then preference for a physical keyboard (I write a lot of emails). I've also recently invested in a Gemini PDA, a new smartphone with a keyboard that is inspired by original devices by Psion.

And what software?

To do my job as a journalist, I rely almost exclusively on the cloud. Things like WordPress, Google Docs, and Gmail. For communications, I use Slack, iMessage, WhatsApp, Skype, and Convo, for both internal and external chat with colleagues and subjects/sources. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, too, as a way to track news, talk to other people in the tech industry, cultivate sources and promote the articles I publish. LinkedIn is also quite useful when researching people or reaching out for comment. And Spotify keeps me company throughout my working day.

As mentioned, my studio is built around Logic Pro X. I've also invested in a huge amount of software effects, including tons of plugins from Waves. I also purchased Native Instruments Komplete 10 a while back, mostly for the acoustic piano virtual instruments and to compose horn parts. Most recently I added Toontrack Superior Drummer 3, which is hands-down the best software for powering an electronic drum kit or programming your own natural-sounding drum parts (honestly, it sounds amazing).

What would be your dream setup?

I don't have a lot of gear-lust left these days. But if you had a gun to my head, I'd always buy the most powerful MacBook possible and/or possibly an iMac Pro. I would also like to upgrade my ageing audio interface to Thunderbolt 3 with a higher sample rate (recording quality). And I'd probably replace my HHB Circle 5s with active speakers from Adam Audio. My dream setup would really be to have my studio relocated to a more spacious room and one that has been acoustically treated and has a separate live room and/or vocal recording booth.



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Parker Molloy


Parker Molloy

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Parker Molloy. I'm a writer living in Chicago, Illinois, with my wife, Kayla; my dog, Meatball; and my two rabbits, Jeffrey and Benjamin. For the past three years or so, I've worked at Upworthy.com, where I'm a senior writer. My work has appeared places like the New York Times, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, and Vice, among other outlets. I spend a lot of time on social media, especially Twitter, partially as a way to keep up with the world for the sake of work/trying to find new story ideas, and partially as a way just to stay connected with people. In my spare time, I like making GIFs and short videos, as well as editing photos.

What hardware do you use?

I work from home, so I kind of just make due with what I've got hanging around. That said, I use a 13" MacBook Air I picked up in early 2015 with a 1.6 GH Intel Core i5 processor and 8 GB of memory. I feel like it's nearing the end of its life, but it's served me (mostly) well. Most of the time, I have it hooked up to a 23" Dell monitor. I use a Logitech wireless keyboard and an Apple Magic Trackpad. On occasion, I'll do someone's podcast, and for that I use a Blue Yeti USB microphone. I also use a Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam for video chats. Working in a remote office environment, I've found that having a decent camera set up is a good thing. For interviews in the field, I have a Zoom H4n handheld recorder. Also, I have an iPhone 8 Plus.

And what software?

I use GIF Brewery 3 to make GIFs, Skitch for quick photo edits, and Photoshop for more detailed work. I make due with iMovie and GarageBand for audio and video work. For writing, I use the built-in Notes app for quick projects, but use Google Drive, Word, Scrivener, and Final Draft 10 when the situation calls for it. I get a lot of use out of Spotify during the workday, and the whole thing runs on macOS High Sierra.

What would be your dream setup?

I like a lot of what I've got, to be honest. For my skill level, I don't feel like I need some massive professional suite of audio/video/photo software (as it is, Adobe InDesign and Illustrator mostly just languish unopened on my hard drive). I really would like a newer laptop, though. I've gotten to like using Apple products over the past several years. If given an unlimited budget, I think I'd get one of the new iMac Pro 27-inch Retina 5K desktops and a 15-inch MacBook Pro for work on the go. I do a lot of work from my phone, so the ease of being able to shift between the three depending on the situation would be ideal. In an ideal world, I'd probably spring for a better desk and chair, as I'm using this big hulking wooden desk from my childhood bedroom and a pretty standard adjustable swivel chair.



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