Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done

A picture of Allison Parrish

Allison Parrish

Poet, programmer, professor, game designer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a poet, computer programmer and game designer. I work at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program as an Assistant Arts Professor. I teach introductory programming classes there along with a course on computer-generated poetry and another called "Electronic Rituals, Oracles and Fortune-Telling" about divination in the context of digital and networked media. Most of my work falls into the category of "computer-generated poetry"; I usually work with large corpora and forms of artificial intelligence and machine learning to write computer programs that write poetry.

What hardware do you use?

I have a 13-inch, mid 2013 MacBook Air and it is the only computer I have ever really loved. I just got the battery replaced and it's just as snappy as the day I bought it (refurbished!). I'm in my mid-thirties and - maybe this is morbid? I don't mean it to be - I'm starting to realize that some small number of things I own right now are probably things that I'll own for the rest of my life. Technology doesn't work this way, of course, and I hope to live many decades still, but I still kinda abstractly hope this computer is the last computer I'll ever have to buy.

The only other hardware that I use is an original-issue Korg nanoKONTROL MIDI controller, which is perfect when I have poetry experiments or performances that require sliders and knobs.

And what software?

Most of my RAM and CPU gets funneled into Firefox. I do 90% of my programming work (sketches, experiments, tutorials) in Jupyter Notebook, but whenever I'm doing actual "software engineering" I use Vim. I take notes and organize ideas in Notational Velocity, track links and citations with Zotero and use a combo of SelfControl and some app I found on the App Store called "Tomato One" to keep me on task. It sort of works. I don't know.

I spend a lot of time in Keynote and I don't really like it. I don't hate it, it just doesn't feel expressive or fun. A few months ago at Practice (a game design conference hosted at NYU), Joseph White made and delivered his presentation about PICO-8 in PICO-8 and it was amazing - not because it was gimmicky, but because it was suited to the presentation itself and because Joseph clearly had the level of mastery over the software that made using it the obvious and necessary choice. I spend a lot of time wondering, like, what's the Allison equivalent of that.

This doesn't really fit into either the "software" or the "hardware" category, but I recently got fed up with Google Calendar and started using a pen-and-paper planner instead. And I actually love it? I've discovered about myself that actually writing things down - in a particular place, in particular spatial relationships to other things I've written - actually helps me remember them and understand them in relation to one another. (Wild, right?) I like being able to come up with my own abstractions about my schedule on-the-fly instead of relying on the abstractions Google came up with. And it's satisfying to be able to look back at a particularly busy month and see everything I did all at once and admire what a good job I did of keeping it all together. Anyway - and I know this isn't news to anyone who had a schedule to keep in ye olden times—pen-and-paper planners: highly recommended.

What would be your dream setup?

Well, like I said, I hope to own and use this MacBook Air for the rest of my life. Planned obsolescence and more-and-more aggressive uses of JavaScript in the browser are conspiring against this outcome, but that's the dream. I was reading "Where Vim Came From" the other day, which points out that Vim and its predecessors have a history going back half a century (!). I've been using some form vi or Vim for almost twenty years myself, and I still feel like every day I'm increasing my mastery of it, learning something I hadn't known before. I'm not saying I want to shy away from anything "new," but I've lost so much time to fads, especially in the years when I worked as a start-up software engineer. So lately when I'm making decisions about what tools I want to adopt, or what tools I want to teach to my students, one of the most important criteria is: will this still work in five, ten, twenty years? Is this the kind of thing that will richly reward the time you invest in mastering it?