Nikki Lee


Nikki Lee

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Nikki. I'm a product manager and product strategist, which seems to mean that I spend most of my time talking to people.

I'm currently at 18F, a digital services consultancy that works with federal agencies to successfully deliver efficient, easy-to-use digital services. I bounce between coaching agency staff on product management, management and organization consulting, and building software — whatever it takes to get my clients unstuck. At my last job, I was a PM at Microsoft, where I worked on Windows Ink. I also own a lot of Microsoft peripherals, because I had a sweet employee discount when I worked there.

I also do academic research, mostly focused on self-tracking. Because I'm a nerd.

Sometimes I write essays and build web things. Other times I play video games.

I'm sorry this is so many words. If you tweet at me I'll send you a cat picture to apologize.

What hardware do you use?

A sketch of a MacBook Pro, iPhone 6, ThinkPad Yoga, Google Pixel, a standing desk with a Dell XPS 8500 next to it, and Nikki's peripherals: personal and work keyboard/mouse setups, game controller, and an array of headphones.

Computers

At work I use a 13" MacBook Pro (pre Touch Bar) and iPhone 6. They have a certain amount of techie cred, but I resent both of these devices, and many of my coworkers have heard a variety of rants about the core interaction models of iOS and OS X. I love the virtual desktops functionality in OS X, but that's basically the only design choice I prefer to Windows.

We also have a bunch of Thunderbolt displays in our office. They're nice for extra real estate and the integrated cameras in the display are better positioned for video calls.

In my personal life, I spend most of my time on my Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga. The pen that came with this computer isn't great, so I scavenged a pen from an old X220T — it's a better size for my hands and actually has an eraser on it. Of course, there's no integrated storage for it, so I also acquired a Surface Pen Loop and stuck it on the side of my laptop. Whatever works, right?

I also have a desktop (a Dell XPS 8500), which I mostly use for gaming and listening to music. It's not particularly noteworthy in any direction.

My main phone is my Google Pixel, which I have been really impressed with. The camera is excellent, the fingerprint reader has been integrated brilliantly, and it's survived an embarrassing number of falls with only superficial damage.

Keyboards & mice

At work I use a Kinesis Freestyle2 keyboard and the most normal looking ergonomic mouse that was in the GSA catalog.

At home I use a Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and a Logitech M705 mouse.

Audio & video

My desktop is where my Denon AH-D7000s live, because it has an actual dedicated sound card. I received these headphones as a college graduation present, and I have gotten massive mileage out of them. They're by far my favorite.

When I'm lounging on the couch, I'll grab my SteelSeries Siberia V3 headphones. I don't worry about dropping them, banging them up, tweaking the cords, or spilling water on them, and they don't need an amp or sound card.

I almost always have my Denon AH-C50MASR earbuds with me when I leave the house. They're also my go-to for hopping on video calls or listening to music at work. Sometimes I'll grab my G-Cord earbuds if I need to jump on a call quickly, but they aren't great for listening to music. I also keep a pair of Windows branded Skullcandy Hesh 2 Wireless Headphones in my locker at work. They were our ship gift when Windows 10 launched, which sparked a series of rumors that we were all going to get moved from personal offices to an open work space.

I also get good mileage out of my JLab Epic2 wireless sport earbuds (for the gym) and my DUBS earplugs (for concerts and riding on BART).

Most video calls happen on my laptops, which have integrated webcams, but I also have a Lifecam Cinema on my desktop, just in case.

I, uh, seem to own a lot of headphones. I need to think about this.

Gaming

I snagged an Xbox Elite controller as a goodbye to Microsoft. It's fantastic, and I have no regrets about buying it. I also have a handful of standard Xbox One controllers for co-op gaming sessions with friends. They come in handy when I persuade people to have an office game night.

Pretty all of my gaming is on my PC, but I also have a New Nintendo 3DS XL, which is particularly great for travel. It is also by far the worst named product I have ever owned. Seriously Nintendo, what gives?

And what software?

Work

My job is all about communication, so I spend most of my time in Slack and the G Suite. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are all excellent collaboration tools, and I've learned how to make Google Slides about 75% as good as PowerPoint (the animations library and drawing tools are still far inferior, but the real-time collaboration almost makes up for it). Every now and then I'll download something into Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to share with a client. I don't usually do this because all of our branded templates document and slide templates are Google-first.

I also spend a fair amount of time whiteboarding and sticky noting in Mural. Their UX design isn't great, but their core value proposition is unmatched.

Video calls are a daily challenge. The Mac audio and video stack doesn't play well with Google Chrome and Hangouts, so I (like many of my coworkers) have a private appear.in room as a backup. We also use Zoom for organization-wide and team meetings and Adobe Connect when we're meeting with clients who can't access our other video calling tools. Federal and state agency software policies vary a lot, and it's important to have a lot of backup options so that we can still talk to them face-to-face. It's still better than traveling every week, though. I did that for a while and it really started to mess with my head.

All of our code goes on GitHub. Open source software and transparency are one of 18F's core values, and GitHub makes it really easy for us to live that value without disrupting our core workflows. I don't usually write code at work, but I occasionally have reason to crack open Sublime Text.

Task management mostly happens in Trello, although my experience is that people are pretty bad at checking task boards regularly unless the team has a strict stand up process. GitHub Issues really seem to be the most reliable thing besides people individually writing down and remembering their own tasks.

Research

My research team mostly uses Google Docs and Google Sheets to process data. We've also used Saturate for qualitative coding, which makes it really easy to divide work across many coders.

Our data collection usually depends on survey tools (our latest project used Google Forms) or custom built software.

Final papers are pretty much always written in Microsoft Word, because that's what conferences have standardized around. We've also gotten in the habit of publishing plain language writeups of our research on Medium. I'm not sure anybody reads them, but they're available. We tried.

Side projects

I can barely function without music. I pretty much always have Google Play Music running in the background while I work. They won my loyalty by offering me a forever discount, which is a pretty good incentive.

Plumbago is great for sketching out concepts, outlining essays, and thinking through things. Basically anything you would do with a paper notebook. I also use the Windows Ink Sketchpad as a scratch pad to work through problems and make quick doodles and diagrams. It also makes me feel good about myself, because it was one of the features I pitched, designed, and shipped. And it's actually useful!

Once I'm done outlining, I mostly write my essays directly in Medium's text editor. Nothing fancy there. I get all the images for my essays on Flickr (searching across Creative Commons licensed images, of course).

When I'm coding, I generally use Sublime Text (I even paid for a license!) and LiveReload. Most of my stuff is just simple HMTL/CSS/JavaScript, with jQuery to make DOM object manipulation less annoying. On the occasions when I do write backend code, I use Ruby on Rails and deploy my apps using Heroku. And of course, I keep everything on GitHub like a good tech worker should.

Sometimes I draw. I haven't found an art program that I really love yet, but Autodesk SketchBook is all right. I wish their pen and touch interaction model was handled better, and don't love the brush options they offer. Bamboo Paper and Bamboo Page (both by Wacom) have some really nice inking effects, especially their watercolor markers, but the apps are too limited for really good drawing. I'm considering trying to learn how to make Photoshop do what I want, but it's more likely that I'll just keep bouncing back to physical media. A sketchbook, pencil, and set of Copic sketching grays already gets me just about everything I want.

Gaming

Almost all of my PC games are managed via Steam.

When I stream, I use OBS Studio to capture and stream to Twitch. I'm not a very dedicated streamer, so I don't need any other plugins.

What would be your dream setup?

I would love to use a Surface Pro at work. In my time at Microsoft I used a Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book, and they were all excellent devices for the type of work I do.

They're lightweight, which was great when I was constantly running between meetings, and would be great now that I travel a lot. Having a pen would be killer for quickly explaining things to partners, especially when I'm on site in their offices (not all of them have whiteboards readily available). Having a touch display would be nice, too. I didn't need a mouse when I was using Surface devices because I didn't have to use the trackpad (which is rough on my wrist) for everything.

I'd love to have better collaborative whiteboarding and drawing software. People spend so much time describing in words what can be communicated much more quickly in sketches. I mostly work with folks who aren't in the same place as me, so we can't just grab a whiteboard and share ideas, which is really frustrating. If I had to guess, I'd say that the OneNote team is going to be the first to launch a really great solution to this problem.

An annotated photograph of a grey cat lying on a lighter grey blanket that says thanks for reading.


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Matt Lee


Matt Lee

Who are you, and what do you do?

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

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

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

What hardware do you use?

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

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

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

And what software?

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

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

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

What would be your dream setup?

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

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


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Ryan Lee


Ryan Lee

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Ryan Lee, a bread baker and a potter recently relocated to Harstine Island, WA. Choosing an appropriate name for the project has been a constant struggle but right now I call it bakerpotter. I plan to build a little homestead wood fired bakery this winter but I'm currently focusing most of my attention on making pottery.

I like to make simple functional pots that folks will use everyday and that never go out of style. There's a certain satisfaction in the pursuit of these crafts – both are incredibly simple and nourishing, but in their simplicity there is an incredible margin for variation. I've embraced the wild and natural elements in both crafts and have actively rejected technology that would narrow this margin for variation. I plan to spend my life pursuing an ideal and hope I never find it.

What hardware do you use?

I'll focus on the pottery project. I use a rusty old Brent potter's wheel from the late 1970's – it's a little rough but it was cheap and works. When throwing pots I use a piece of wire, a sponge, some thin pieces of wood for shaping and sometimes calipers. I fire everything in two stages, I use a Skutt Electric Kiln for bisque firing and a bespoke gas kiln for glaze firing. The gas kiln consists of the shell of a broken electric kiln with a few holes cut into it, a burner bolted on and a few propane tanks that I keep in a hot water bath to prevent them from freezing.

And what software?

Clay.. Get it? Software? I can't resist a bad pun. Feldspar, silica, dry clay, and lately wood ash are some of the materials that go into making glazes. Oh, and I would have to say the firing schedule. I fire all of my work to around 2300 degrees with a reduction cooling cycle. By starving the fire of oxygen you can force it to pull available oxygen molecules from other chemical bonds in the clay and glaze, essentially changing the molecular structure and more importantly creating interesting colors and textures. I built a website with Squarespace and use Wave the keep the money right.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm very fortunate, I have a dedicated space and in the past several months have been making pottery full time in a beautiful place. That being said, heat and insulation in my workshop! I recently took over our living room because I couldn't work in the cold any longer. A quiet potter's wheel would be a dream – mine is so loud I have to crank the volume if I want to listen to anything while I work. A pugmill for recycling clay; doing it all by hand is really hard on the body.

I could also really use a larger kiln that could be fired with wood or gas or both. Wood adds a whole new set of variables to the firing process, I'd like to take that on.


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