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What do people use to get stuff done?

Amelia Greenhall

Amelia Greenhall

Data scientist, executive director (Double Union)

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Amelia Greenhall, and I'm the Executive Director of Double Union, a non-profit feminist hacker/maker space. Right now, I'm writing a book about adventuring in the Bay Area (Sept 2015, Microcosm) and working on prototyping a bike light that flashes with your heartbeat. I also publish a literary journal called the Open Review Quarterly.

Previously, I've worked on a pretty wide range of things, such as co-founding the publication Model View Culture, and doing design for a number of startups focused on health and finance. I've mainly focused on UX design and data analysis, but I've done everything from writing and editing to illustration and book design, so my tools are pretty varied.

What hardware do you use?

Day to day, I work on an 11" MacBook Air. I like that having one small screen keeps me focused. I take calls and pictures on an iPhone 4S. I also take pictures with a Canon DSLR - a Digital Rebel model from 2005.

For illustration work, I use a 8x10" Wacom Intuos 3 tablet. The city guidebook has a lot of hand drawn maps in it. I'm also currently working on the cover for Elly Blue's Zombies and Bikes zine, and designing stickers, screenprinted posters, and a couple zines of my own. I really love how detailed, polished and layered drawing with a tablet lets me get, but for starting projects and keeping myself visually inspired, I also spend a lot of time with my sketchbook. I draw in it with india ink using pens or brushes, and use scissors, tape and glue to modify and collect and arrange things in new ways. I also always go to the sketchbook first, to sketch wireframes.

It's an unconventional bit of 'hardware', but I also keep an inspiration board above my workspace - a piece of foamcore covered in linen, with a box of pins nearby. Right now it has an old printout of the Hipster Habit App, a hand drawn map of San Francisco, the post office hours, and some sketches of a screenprint I'm developing using conductive ink and embedded LEDs. My background is in Electrical Engineering and Studio Art, and I find myself constantly combining the hardware of the two disciplines - being tactile and visual is a really important part of my creative process.

Double Union hackerspace has a pretty incredible array of hardware that I'm just beginning to use - sewing machines, sergers, CNC machine, vector vinyl cutter, printmaking stuff, big paper cutters and giant zine making-staplers ... and a huge supply of Raspberry Pi, Arduinos, and soft/paper circuits supplies. I think that's the hardware I'm most inspired by at the moment.

Finally, a few miscellaneous hardware preferences: I write morning pages in those giant 8x10" Moleskines, lined, and have Pentel Hybrid Technica 0.3 pens. And for fun, sometimes I use a blink1 - a little USB RGB LED, to alert me when things happen.

And what software?

Much of my workday right now is spent in email and text editors. For writing, depending on the use case, I choose between TextMate, Google Docs, or Mou (for previewing writing in Markdown side-by-side). For development, I have been using TextMate for a while, along with plain old Terminal. What I'm working on at the moment is fairly standard Ruby/Rails stuff, so I don't need a particularly fancy setup. I keep running in the background when I'm doing local development.

For data analysis and visualization, I mostly work in Python and d3.js. I use IPython Notebook for interactively exploring data - it's a little like Mathematica in that it gives you a bunch of discrete cells for code, with output below, that you can tweak and re-run repeatedly. The scientific computing community in Python is pretty great - I use Pandas, SciPy, NumPy, matplotlib, and other libraries along those lines. (If you're looking to get started there, I super highly recommend pairing Python for Data Analysis and Interactive Data Visualization for the Web.)

For illustration and design work: Photoshop. I've been using it for over a decade and have a customized workspace that lets me work quickly. I use actions to automate a lot of the post processing that I used to do by hand, and it plays well with my Wacom tablet.

I try to keep my apps pretty lightweight: I use Adium for chat and IRC, and Tweetdeck for managing twitter, and Audacity and VLC for editing and audio stuff. 3Hub is the best option I've found for managing Amazon S3, but it has pretty terrible UX. And Disk Inventory X is great for making sure I keep my computer's storage and backups managed well - a necessity on a MacBook Air.

As far as little utilities go, I'm a fan of MagiCal, which changes the Mac toolbar calendar options, and Alarm Clock 2 for setting timers and alarms. F.lux is a must for making the screen not burn my eyes at night.

I try not to spend much time on my phone, but my go-to apps there are VSCO Cam, IFTTT, Dropbox, Google Authenticator, Mailbox, Square Register, Google Maps (transit/bike route planning), and Dark Sky (back when I lived in Seattle, it was a must for planning bike commutes to miss the rain).

On the silly side, I use the Dogecoin-Qt app for keeping my doges.

What would be your dream setup?

I can imagine that going back to having an iMac-style monitor is in my future at some point, for my posture's sake. And I'll likely upgrade my phone for the camera's sake in the next year or so, since cameras on phones are so good now! But right now I'm really happy with my setup - I'm super privileged and lucky to have been able to slowly build up all the tools that let me do what I need to do.

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