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 Andy Baio
Image by Tamás Kádár.

Andy Baio

Writer, developer, co-organiser (XOXO)

Posted in developer, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi, I'm Andy Baio (aka @waxpancake). I'm a writer, coder, and the co-organizer/curator of XOXO, an annual festival in Portland, Oregon about artists and creators who live and work on the internet, which just wrapped its seventh year in September.

For the last 17 years, I've written about internet culture and creative technology on Waxy.org, with occasional stints writing for publications like Wired, The Message, and the New York Times. Some people might know me for various internet goofs like coining the "supercut" genre of videos, finding the Star Wars Kid, or the copyright dispute over my Miles Davis chiptune tribute album, Kind of Bloop.

Some people know me for my involvement with Kickstarter, which I helped get off the ground in its early days as an advisor, board member, and its first CTO. Others may know Upcoming.org, the collaborative events calendar I started in 2003 and sold to Yahoo - which I bought back from them after they shuttered it, relaunching it and restoring the historical archives in 2017.

I also maintain a variety of side projects like Belong.io, a weird little Twitter link aggregator, and Playfic, a sandbox for writing and sharing interactive fiction games with Inform 7 entirely in the browser.

Frankly, I don't really know what I do anymore, but I hope to keep doing it as long as possible.

What hardware do you use?

I use a mid-2014 15" MacBook Pro, one of the last great laptops Apple made - a functional keyboard, no Touch Bar, MagSafe, plenty of ports. I'll probably keep using it until it implodes or they stop making new batteries for it.

When I'm home, I keep it plugged into a 27" Thunderbolt Display, because my eyes are garbage. It's hard for me to work at length on anything smaller, so the laptop almost always stays closed on a stand.

Plugged into the display, I always keep a Lightning charger for my phone, an old wired Apple aluminum keyboard, and a classic wired Microsoft optical IntelliMouse - in my opinion, the best mouse ever made and the only one that's ever felt comfortable in my hand. I don't particularly care about desk aesthetics, so the cables don't bother me. I'd rather have cables than ever recharge a battery or lose a Bluetooth connection.

My phone is a brand-new iPhone 11, upgraded from my old iPhone 6S. I tend to keep hardware for a long time, often until it's falling apart or literally can't run the software I need, which was the case for my old phone. I hate spending money on incremental improvements that I barely notice, and the process of upgrading anything is a hassle, so I avoid it whenever possible.

On my desk, I also have a Commodore 64 plugged into a cheap monitor along with a six-year-old gaming PC. I rarely use either, but there's something comforting about knowing they're there. I keep a working Vectrex and growing collection of old adventure games on my shelf for the same reason - more like a weighted blanket of nostalgia than for any practical purpose.

And what software?

For the same reasons I mentioned earlier, I'm usually an OS version or two behind. I never, ever run beta software for something as critical as an operating system. I'm currently running macOS Mojave, backed up with both Time Machine and SuperDuper to an external drive and BackBlaze to the cloud. Overkill maybe, but after a major drive crash a few years ago, I'm not taking any chances.

I primarily live in Chrome, but keep flirting with Firefox, and could see heading back full-time in the next few months. When I write for Waxy.org, I write directly in WordPress's new Gutenberg editor, which is now on par with Medium as a best-of-class writing environment for the web. (And unlike Medium, I own my work.) Anything not destined for my blog goes into the Google Suite. I also rely heavily on Dropbox, 1Password, an ancient copy of Photoshop, and Figma. Notes go in Notational Velocity, to-do lists in Wunderlist.

I've always loved seeking out interesting things on the internet, and with my role curating XOXO, it became part of my job. I spend a ridiculous amount of time online searching for new people and projects, and often getting to know creators behind the work that I love. A surprising amount of that interaction happens publicly and privately on Twitter, and I use a combination of Twitter lists, searches, and tools like Nuzzel and my own Belong.io to stay on top of it. I use Feedly to follow hundreds of RSS sources, subscribe to a couple dozen newsletters, and maintain a carefully-selected set of non-default subreddits to make Reddit tolerable.

I spend every day in the XOXO Slack, a private community for the thousands of people who have attended, spoken, or performed at XOXO, self-organized into hundreds of channels. They're an interesting group of people, and even with all my searching, they constantly turn me on to interesting new things I've never heard of.

It's all still harder and more time-consuming than it should be, and I hate that word-of-mouth is the best we have for finding interesting creators and projects online. Maybe I can do something to help fix that someday.

For coding, I'm continually restless. It seems like I adopt a new stack, including new editors and tooling, for every major project, and I haven't found a framework that I truly love that helps me get things done as quickly as I'd like. I'm not a great programmer, self-taught with Perl on the early web and no formal CS education, and it's easy for me to get overwhelmed with modern web development. I'm currently working with Express.js, Vue.js, and Firebase. We'll see how it goes.

Lately, I'm using VS Code after a long stint with Atom. I host my sites on DigitalOcean and end up using vim in screen sessions on my droplets a bunch.

I'm pretty interested in the creative applications of machine learning and AI right now, and spending an increasing amount of my free time working with tools like Google Colab, Runway ML, TensorFlow, and Hugging Face to play around with machine-generated text, audio, imagery, and video. No immediate plans, but it's such a ridiculously rich source of creative inspiration, I just want it to be part of my toolbox.

What would be your dream setup?

I've worn glasses for my entire life, so my personal dream setup would be replacing my laptop, monitor, and phone all at once by replacing my prescription lenses with augmented-reality glasses that annotate the world around me without blocking it out entirely.

I struggle with recognizing people by faces alone, and reminding me their names and other critical context would change my entire life and social anxiety. It would allow for windowed displays of any size wherever I go, so I wouldn't feel tied to my desk. And I could block out the world to focus, or just watch a movie on a plane, without looking like a weirdo in a VR headset. (One person's utopia is another's dystopia, I guess.)

Generally, I'd love to spend less time with my hands on a keyboard and mouse, getting my ideas out as quickly and easily as possible. I'm very interested in the work happening now around AI-assisted writing and coding, from generative prose writing with GPT-2 to intelligent IDEs like IntelliCode, Kite, and Deep TabNine that try to predict code you're likely to type based on what it's seen in the past.

But more than anything, my dream setup would be one where I can continue to work on things I'm interested in independently and sustainably. Not there quite yet, but we'll see what the 2020s have in store.