Jesse Ditson


Jesse Ditson

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Jesse Ditson – I grew up in Oregon and currently live in San Francisco.

I grew up in a creative family, and music was my first creative field. I was classically trained on cello starting at age 4, which made learning other instruments much easier.

Growing up my family had a 1984 Macintosh in the house, which was my first exposure to computers. There were 1 or 2 games on the floppies we had, and so once I got bored of them I realized I could program my own. This ended up being more fun than playing the games, and so I naturally drifted towards a career in tech.

In high school I got my first programming job through a work-study program, but had a bit of trouble and ended up leaving high school and mostly playing with punk bands and only writing code for fun until I was in my 20s, when I realized writing code paid a lot better and gave me much more flexibility than the jobs I was currently working.
I eventually participated in an event called StartupBus, which put me in contact with folks in Silicon Valley, and a few weeks after the event (in 2011), I moved to SF.

I now spend my days writing code for Attic Labs, and try to be as creative as possible with my evenings and weekends. I love learning things, which leads me down creative paths that include molding/casting, sewing, making music, DIY electronics, painting, and really anything else that helps me move things out of my head and in to the world.

What hardware do you use?

For computer work, I have a Jarvis standing desk at home with an LG 27MU88-W 27 inch monitor mounted to the desk with an arm, and a laptop stand on another arm. The USB-C port handles power, display, and acts as a USB hub, so when I'm using my work laptop (a 15" 2017 MacBook Pro), I just plug in one cord and everything works. When I'm working on music or side projects, I use my home laptop, which is a 2015 15" MacBook Pro.

At work, I use a 24" LG UltraFine 5K display, attached similarly via USB to my MacBook which sits on a Rain stand. I can't say I can tell the difference in quality between the two monitors, and I prefer the home setup slightly despite them being nearly identical.

I do a lot of mobile dev, so I keep a small stack of devices to test things on, and I usually carry two phones so I can dog-food both android and iOS apps. I currently use a Pixel for my Android and an iPhone 7+ for iOS.

Sometimes when I'm drawing or writing the MacBook is way too much of a tool (and illustrating on it is impossible), so I have a 2015 9.7" iPad Pro with the keyboard case and Pencil. It's really nice to be able to be creative without needing a whole computer-sized rig, and the Pencil is my favorite Apple product to come out in recent years. I've been using Wacom tablets and capacitive styluses for pretty much my whole life, and the latency and accuracy of the Pencil is only rivaled by crazy expensive rigs like the Cintiq.

Music is a big part of my work day, and to avoid plugging and unplugging (and because I do recording both at home and work), I have dedicated audio interfaces at home and work. At work I use a Behringer U-PHORIA UM2, which is a really compact 2×2 interface with just the basics. It feels cheap (and it is), but it does a great job. At home I use an Akai EIE Pro, which is a 4×4 and mostly just looks fantastic. I can't say it does anything special.

I leave a pair of open-back Sennheiser HD 598s at work – I've had them for 6 years and they are still incredibly comfortable (even with glasses on, wearing for 8-10 hours at a time) and sound amazing. The open back helps me not feel trapped in my headphones, and lets folks talk to me without shouting or waving. If I need alone time, I stay home.

At home, I don't use headphones, and instead use a pair of KRK ROKIT-5 studio monitors. I'm not sure they'll last much longer, which is unfortunate – but they were a floor model and they sound great, so I would consider re-buying the same model when they die.

If I need to isolate, I have a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones that pretty much block everything out. They're amazing for the $80 price tag, but I pretty much use them exclusively for tracking vocals, as they aren't super comfy to wear for long periods.

Since moving to SF have tried to avoid buying nice instruments since I so rarely have a chance to play them. My stripped down setup is:

  • Audio-Technica AT2035 condensor with a desk mount and pop filter.
  • An old MS-20 MIDI controller that they stopped making in the 90s.
  • An Akai MAX25.
  • An Ableton Push (v1).
  • An old 44-key Edirol for bigger keyboard parts.
  • A Teal Fender Squier Jaguar.
  • A pawn-shop bass that I bought when I lived in Philly and keep repairing for some reason.
  • A Yamaha APXT2 3/4 size acoustic/electric guitar – I love these tiny bodied acoustic guitars, they have kind of a dobro-like quality to them which is fun.
  • A Casio SK-5, which is hands down the best keyboard ever created.

For other projects, I keep around:

  • A tackle box full of breadboards, transistors, servos and arduino boards for when I need to build small electronics, along with a nice soldering rig and dremel.
  • Clay, 2-part expanding foam, liquid latex, hydrocal, cheese cloth, and silicon for casting and molding (usually just for masks around halloween). In SF I can pick up all this stuff at Douglas and Sturgess, along with any resins, buckets, and other accessories.
  • Various power tools and enough hex wrenches, tiny screwdrivers and ratchet sets to take pretty much anything apart and put it back together.
  • A giant collection of rattle cans, acrylics, paint brushes, and adhesives for work that usually involves paper.

And what software?

For code I mostly use iTerm2 and VS Code (recently moved to this from Atom, which I'm not regretting at all) – these modern Javascript IDEs are pretty incredible once you have them configured correctly, and I've even been finding myself using XCode a lot less for Objective-C and Swift unless I'm spinning up a new project.

Here are some productivity tools I use do as much for my code productivity as my IDEs do:

  • Alfred – especially when combined with Dash, this has all but replaced Finder for me. The clipboard history is also MVP for me.
  • CloudApp – I capture a lot of screen shots, mainly to share work with co-workers and to attach interaction demos to pull requests. This makes that whole process much much easier – I can make GIFs of anything on my screen with a hotkey.
  • 1Password – also combines incredibly well with Alfred, and helps me avoid password entropy or looking up and insecurely storing work-related passwords.

When I write, I use Medium, which is one of the better web apps ever created IMO.

For communication, I use Slack and Messages for conversations, and Astro for email. I can't say Astro is remarkably better than any other email client I've used, but it checks my boxes, which are: unified inbox, snooze, mobile client, and good hotkeys.

For video work, I mostly use After Effects. I don't usually work with any footage, so I rarely need to do much editing. When I do, I either do it on the command line with ffmpeg or with After Effects, but occasionally open up iMovie for dumb/simple projects.

When designing, I pretty much exclusively use Sketch, but sometimes I draw on my iPad with SketchBook Pro. I eventually vectorize pretty much everything. Lately some tools have emerged (Sketch2AE, bodymovin and Lottie) that have let me move back and forth between Sketch and AE easily, and then to export AE animations back to mobile & SVG/Canvas formats. This is a game changer for me, so I've lately been spending much more time than usual animating rather than writing code.

When making technical diagrams or wireframes, I usually use Google Drawings on desktop and Grafio on iPad. Sometimes before that I'll sketch stuff out with Paper by 53 (also on iPad), which feels like a whiteboard with quantization. It's really really good for rapidly getting ideas down.

For music, I mostly stay inside of Ableton Live and try to avoid using the computer as an input device as much as possible when composing. I used to use Reason a lot, which I liked because it felt much more like a physical device. Lately I've been trying to do my own sampling and sample design, which I'd say I'm still working on. Mainly this means I'm fucking around in Simpler until I give up and pull something from Splice.

The Push is a really great tool for avoiding using a mouse, and can for the most part replace your screen as well. When doing simpler tracking stuff I sometimes just use GarageBand, which is a really excellent tool that gets out of the way. I find that 90% of the time, that's all I'm looking for software to do.

What would be your dream setup?

For the most part, I think I already have it. If I lived in a different city I'd probably do a lot more work on the music setup and dedicate a lot more time to it. Most places I've lived in my life had drum kits in them, and lots of space for collecting and storing weird instruments. Not having that has made it difficult for me to record as much as I used to, which is still something I struggle with.

The obvious missing piece is a cello, which is also really painful not to have around. I'll likely buy one soon, but they are one of the most difficult objects to purchase, and every electric cello sounds like absolute garbage so it's hard to find something that isn't insanely expensive and fragile but also isn't terrible to listen to.

I've always fantasized about having an analog synth rig, and still may explore building out a rack and investing in some of the older synths that really shaped my views on music. I understand the amount of time it would take me to learn a rig like that though, and right now it's not something I can fit in. Maybe when I'm old.


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Amy Nguyen


Amy Nguyen

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Amy Nguyen and I'm an infrastructure software engineer. Right now, I work on the Stripe observability team, which is the team that helps others "see" what's going on with their systems. I used to do the same type of work at Pinterest, and before that, I was studying computer science (systems) and philosophy (ethics) in college. You could say I have a need to get to the root of everything, both in life and with servers. Outside of work, I love reading about self-improvement, cooking, and writing.

What hardware do you use?

For work, I just use what my company gives me. I have a 2017 15" MacBook Pro Retina with a Touch Bar (ugh), second monitor, an Anker ergonomic mouse, and an Apple Magic Keyboard. I used to have wrist pain when using the Apple trackpad (though I love the gestures), so I'm making a bigger effort to learn about ergonomics. I also have the Bose QuietComfort 35 noise cancelling headphones, which have been a game changer. I used to use the wired version, but I found myself getting tangled up in my bag straps all the time. Now I can comfortably sit on the train with no tangling! I love them so much that I might buy a second pair so I can keep one at work and one for home/commuting.

For personal stuff, I have a ThinkPad T430 from 2012. I didn't use it much once I started working at Pinterest, but now that I'm at a new job, I'm trying to train myself to make a bigger distinction between work tools and personal tools. So I'm back to the ancient ThinkPad when I'm at home. Some other electronics I consider important are my iPhone 6S Plus (obviously rose gold) and Kindle Paperwhite. I commute to work and like to alternate between reading and blowing through my phone's monthly data limit.

For non-electronic things I love, I always keep a notebook and pen at work. Right now, I'm using the Leuchtturm A5 dotted journal in navy blue and Muji 0.38mm black gel pen. I also loved the Cottonwood Arts dot matrix notebook and went through two of them. I switched to Leuchtturm for the cute colors and larger page size. My criteria for notebooks so far has been hardcover, dot grid, sturdy paper, and inner flap. I cry really easily (like, if I tell you the plot of a sad movie, I will start crying), so I use the inner flap to carry tissues around.

I know you probably weren't asking about this, but I feel like I would be doing a disservice to your audience if I didn't also mention that I have a phone mount on my bathroom mirror so I can watch videos while I brush my teeth. It's very important to me.

And what software?

I started using vim in college because I thought it would make people respect me. Now I use it because I have Stockholm syndrome and a sick .vimrc I can't abandon. Every few months, I think that I should try a modern editor like Sublime/Atom/IntelliJ/PyCharm etc., but I'm too entrenched to figure out all of my workflows in another IDE. Other than that, I use iTerm2 and tmux – I try to keep it no frills when it comes to development. I don't even remap my escape key to capslock. I love scm-breeze for making git easier – it adds some really great shortcuts and highlighting. The other application I want to give a shoutout to is Spectacle for Mac OS X window management. I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts and Spectacle is great for that.

On my ThinkPad, I'm still running Windows 7 and Ubuntu 12.10 (that's how old it is!). I'm not a big fan of either, but I needed both in college to get homework assignments done.

As for "serious" iOS apps, I use Chrome, Google Calendar (if it's not on my calendar, it's not happening), Gmail (I hated Inbox), Slack (I wish it was faster), LastPass, and Duo Mobile. I use Aviary for blurring out identifying info before posting photos online, which I think more people should be mindful of!

For everything else on my phone, I'm usually on Twitter, Reddit, the Kindle iOS app, Spotify (Premium, because I'm not a savage), Pinterest, Pocket, Hearthstone, Twitch, and YouTube. I use the Kindle iOS app whenever I have an expired library book on my Kindle. I put the Kindle in airplane mode so that the expired book doesn't disappear, and then I read another book on my phone. It's not a very sustainable system, but it's what I do.

One miscellaneous thing I want to share in case it helps other people: I just found out a week ago that there's an iOS/Android app for the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones called Bose Connect! It allows you to toggle noise canceling (which was not possible before) and customize some other settings. I'm really happy about this, because I hate being snuck up upon when I have headphones on.

What would be your dream setup?

takes deep breath I want an Amy-sized desk where my back is against a wall and there are potted plants everywhere, natural sunlight that doesn't directly shine in my face, a nearby water cooler, a bathroom on the same floor, and at least three cats at all times. Also Bluetooth headphones that understand how to never embarrass me at work and never run out of battery.

To explain: I'm too short for my desk/chair setup at my new job. When I put my desk at the lowest setting, it's still too tall for my arms to be parallel to the floor. If I raise my chair to the height where my arms would be parallel, my feet dangle. I really wish I had a desk that was just a few inches shorter – it would make a huge difference for all of my ergonomic pain. I'm looking into getting a footstool, but still figuring it out.

I keep accidentally playing loud music from my laptop because I forget to pause my music before turning off my headphones or some sort of Bluetooth weirdness happens to unpair my devices. Now my coworkers know how much I like Taylor Swift and anime music.

Some other miscellany: I wish I had an ergonomic mouse that wasn't so tall. I knock it over all the times when moving around my desk. I tend to switch between writing in my notebook, grabbing my cup of water, typing, and talking with my hands, so I knock my mouse over a few times every day. I'm sure I'm annoying my coworkers a lot. (It's either that, or the headphones, but I'm sure they hate me by now.) I'm also still on the hunt for my perfect notebook. I realized over the past few weeks that I want a notebook that can fold back on itself because I want to have more desk real estate. I don't like spiral notebooks because the pages fall out more easily, but that seems to be the only option. I'm open to suggestions!


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Matt Fitzgerald


Matt Fitzgerald

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a preacher, an essayist and a podcast host. I live in Chicago with my wife, who is a psychotherapist. We're joined by our three kids and Zeus, a pit bull mix. She kills rats. I serve the best liberal church, Saint Pauls UCC. I also write devotions that elicit outraged email from strangers.

What hardware do you use?

My beautiful bicycle was stolen, so I ride a Surly Karate Monkey with a gigantic Wald basket to visit hospitals and see people in their homes. I'd call myself a bicycle commuter, but I live in wonderful church housing less than 100 yards from Saint Pauls. To get there I walk down a rat infested alley. To kill the rats that get in our yard I use Zeus. To kill the rats in the alley I use a combination of glue traps and three feral cats, all of whom live at the church.

For computer hardware, I have a 2013 27 inch iMac, an iPhone 7 and an ancient, balky iMac at home. At the church I print to a Canon iR-Adv photocopier. It is as big as a small car. At home I print to a Brother I got on Amazon. I use a Blue Yeti mic for podcasting. I bought two of them, but I haven't been able to figure out how to run both simultaneously, so I've got an Audio Technica too.

I listen to a lot of music, both to put liturgies together and to energize or soothe myself. I sold all my records. At home I stream from my phone to vintage stereo receivers using Airport Expresses. We've got three of these set up throughout the house, they all run through an Airport Extreme.

At work I have a Razer Leviathan soundbar hooked to my iMac. During the workday I make coffee with an Aeropress.

And what software?

My office is gigantic, elegant, wood-paneled, old. Imagine the office Dumbledore would have if he were a senator. It's ridiculous. There are walls of built-in bookshelves that hold a large theological library. I use books every day, old school page turning. I have too many books because I once believed I could learn my way to God.

I write short, quick things in Word for Mac 14.7.3, Courier, 14 point font. If I need to start something I know I won't finish before dinner I write it in Google Docs so that I can open it at home or on my phone. I should switch to Google Docs exclusively, but I don't quite trust it. Not the security, the ether. But I use Google Calendar. The option to have it sound an alarm on my phone ten minutes before an appointment begins has saved my ass more than once.

I record podcasts with Audio Hijack. I love this program. It always works and is very simple. If my guest isn't in my office I use Skype with the video turned off. Video conferencing unnerves me. I make to-do lists with a Uni-Ball Signo and scrap paper. I talk to church members on a land-line phone, over email (when will it end?) and in text messages.

What would be your dream setup?

To be honest, I've got my dream setup. Maybe less email and a more reliable home computer. As a kid I wanted a stand-up architect desk that I could adjust at an angle, but why? I'm terrible at math.


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Tooba Rezaei


Tooba Rezaei

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Tooba Rezaei, and I'm a visual artist and animation artist. I've been working in the industry since 2003. I work both digitally and traditionally, and my work has been released in animated shorts, animated features, animation TV shows, games, books, and gallery shows in many different countries. The animated short I created and directed has received over twelve screenings worldwide alongside nominations and awards, and my fine art paintings have been included in over twenty solo and group shows. I have studied and worked in many different countries such as Iran, Holland and the USA.

Currently I live and work in Los Angeles.

What hardware do you use?

I alternately use a Mac and PC to do my work, and I'm very comfortable working with either of them.

I use mostly a Cintiq for illustrations and animation these days, but I can work with the simpler pen tablet that I used in the past. Of course, I also use traditional art hardware like pencils, paper, and paint to do my work. I enjoy using both types of creation tools, and try to use the ones that best fit the particular project I'm working on.

And what software?

When I started to work digitally, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator were the programs that I mainly worked with. But now I work with over ten software programs, such a Adobe After Effects, Autodesk Maya, Mudbox, SketchUp, ZBrush and more.

When I'm designing concepts after doing research, I start drawing a lot of thumbnails, I choose my favorite ones and I start to make them in 3D software programs such as SketchUp or Maya – sometimes I use both of them. I use these two programs to create the environment, and for my characters I use Mudbox, Maya and Zbrush. When I'm happy with the design and perspective, I paint it in Photoshop. Sometimes I start to work directly in Photoshop, skipping the 3D stage.

For my animation I use Photoshop, After Effects, Flash and sometimes Maya. For the editing part, beside After Effects, I use Premiere, Snagit and Camtasia.

What would be your dream setup?

On one side of my studio, I would like to have a Mac Pro with a large monitor and Cintiq tablet, with all the software programs I need. I'd love to have a nice north-facing window to look out of as I work on my computer as well.

On the other side of my studio, I would like to have all the equipment for doing traditional art. I'd like a big oak easel and shelves for all my art books all around the easel, so I could use them for reference very easily. A nice rolling wood taboret for my supplies with a palette in the top would also be a wonderful help.


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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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