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 Bertrand Fan

Bertrand Fan

Engineer (Slack)

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Bertrand Fan, an engineer on the Platform team at Slack. I build things so that you can build things, but sometimes I also build things to verify that the things that I'm building actually help you build things.

I'm less interesting than my wife, Iris Willow. You should be reading her interview instead.

Previously, I helped Barack Obama become president, built VR at Flickr and architected its transition to a Node.js stack, and failed at building a startup.

What hardware do you use?

I have a 256 GB Jet Black iPhone 7 and my AirPods with me at all times. If you have the kind of ear canals that can tolerate in-ear monitors, you should use those instead, they sound way better. I put my phone in an ElevationDock with a NanoPad that uses thousands of tiny suction cups to secure it to my bedside table.

My favorite pen is the Pilot Hi-Tec-C Cavalier, which unfortunately has been discontinued by Pilot Japan. I've tried a lot of different notebooks but I like the Kyokuto F.O.B COOP W Ring Notebook - B5 - Dot Grid - Silver best because it has a subtle dot grid and you can lay it flat to read it.

I have two MacBook Pros, one for work (15-inch, Mid 2015) and one for personal use (15-inch with Touch Bar, Space Grey, 2016). I also have a recertified Acer Chromebook 11 that I'm experimenting with as a writing device and a desktop that I built which serves as my VR rig.

The 2016 Macbook Pro seems like a misstep to me. It has a lack of useful ports so I have to supplement it with an Arc Hub and a Belkin USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet adapter. If you want additional power chargers, you have to buy a USB-C Charge Cable and Power Adapter Extension Cable separately. A Power Adapter Extension Cable costs $19 and it doesn't even come with the laptop. The touchbar remains to be a gimmick to me and key travel distance on the keyboard isn't great.

If I'm at a desk, I use WASD v2 TKL keyboards. My work keyboard has PuLSE SA keycaps and Cherry MX brown switches and my home keyboard has 1976 SA keycaps and Cherry MX silent red switches. I recently acquired a 5x6 Macropad that runs off a Teensy that I use as an emoji keyboard.

At work, I use a Magic Mouse 2 and at home I have a discontinued Logitech V550 mouse that I love and buy new old stock of whenever I can find it. I also sometimes use a modified M0100 because I think its funny, but the lack of a right mouse button prohibits me from using it regularly.

I own a Raspberry Pi, Tessel, C.H.I.P., and a Teensy that I'm constantly wiping clean and experimenting with new hardware projects.

I recently sold my HTC Vive because my house is too small for room-scale VR but am keeping my Oculus Rift until the next generation of headsets comes out. I'll probably buy an Oculus Go when it comes out.

I have an HP 7550A pen plotter which originally cost $3900 in 1984, but I picked up one in really good condition for around $100 in 2015 on eBay. It has a ridiculous set of adapters coming out of it (parallel to serial to USB A to USB C) but it produces some impressive plots. I've modified it to also use Pilot Hi-Tec-C refills.

I dabble in cryptocurrency but am fairly paranoid so I store the majority of my funds in a Ledger Nano S hardware wallet.

I got really frustrated with the wifi situation at my last place so I went a little overboard and bought enough network equipment to run a small conference in my home. This includes an EdgeRouter PoE, three Unifi AP AC Pro hotspots, and a Motorola MB8600 cable modem.

My house has Amazon Echo and Echo Dots in every room so I spend a lot of my time yelling at it. Each light switch has been replaced with a Lutron P-PKG1W-WH Caseta Wireless Dimmer that I control with a Wink Hub 2. The Echo Dots are hooked up to 10-year old Sonic Impact Gen 2 T-Amps attached to 20-year old bookshelf speakers that I use Spotify Connect to control with my iPhone. I'm considering switching to the Sonos ecosystem.

I have a Mac Mini (Late 2014) running Plex and a Synology DS415+ with 4 WD Red 6TB drives that hold my movie collection.

I collect old videogame systems, but my favorite console is the SNES. I prefer to play on the original hardware, so I own a Super Wild Card DX which takes 3.5" floppy disks (most SNES games can fit on 1-2 1.44 MB disks) and a sd2snes which can fit the entire SNES library on a single SD card. I also own a Super NES Classic Edition and a Raspberry Pi running RetroPie with USB Super RetroPorts so that you can use the original controllers.

I rarely travel without my Fujifilm X100S, iPad Mini 2, Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, Kindle Paperwhite, Nintendo Switch, Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh battery charger, Monoprice Noise Cancelling Headphones, and Monster MP OTG400 BK Outlets To Go Power Strip.

If there is a theme here, it's that the hardware you love will become discontinued and sometimes won't be replaced by anything better. So if you can afford to, buy two (or three) of them and set them aside for when the first one breaks.

And what software?

OS X is my primary operating system. I had held out for ages on upgrading but the Meltdown and Spectre attacks forced me to upgrade to High Sierra.

I spend a lot of time in Slack, either in the Mac app or the iOS client. I tend to stay in all channels that I have a passing interest in, but only routinely read the channels that I have starred.

I use Sublime Text to write code. My favorite plugins are VCS Gutter, SFTP, Pretty JSON, Requester, Gist, and Package Syncing. I probably should be embarrassed to admit that I use nano to edit files on servers when I need to, but vim seems needlessly obtuse to me.

Moom is one of my favorite apps for controlling my window sizes and position. I've remapped my Caps Lock key to be my Moom trigger.

I use iTerm2 as my terminal app. My prompt is a customized powerline-shell and I use autojump to do most of my navigation between directories.

Homebrew is one of the first things I install on any OS X computer because it has so many packages that I depend on. Sometimes I'll run iftop if my network connection seems particularly slow. I've found exiftool, imagemagick, youtube-dl, and ffmpeg to be useful enough to install by default on all my computers.

I mostly use git on the command line, but I will supplement my workflow with a variety of visual tools. I use tig to navigate through my previous commits and Github Desktop to select which files I want to go into a commit and do quick visual sanity checks of what I'm committing. For diffs and merging, I use Kaleidoscope.

A lot of my job involves testing the Slack API in various ways. I use a combination of curl piping to jq, Requester in Sublime Text, and Postman depending on what I'm trying to do.

ngrok is invaluable for testing various Slack Platform features that require an externally accessible endpoint, but I'll also use the Heroku and Google Cloud CLI tools when I need a more reliable environment.

Google Chrome is the only browser I use, for both browsing and development. I spend a lot of time in the Network tab of Developer Tools, but I also rely on a bunch of different extensions: EditThisCookie, Pinboard Keyboard Shortcut, Window Resizer, uBlock Origin, and SAML Chrome Panel. I have a bunch of different profiles for being signed-in to different accounts on various 3rd-party services. Also, since I use Chrome exclusively, I will often build CLI tools using my cookie extraction library to automate workflows with different websites.

ScreenFlow is great for recording interactions, I use it for providing examples in bug reports, demonstrating how something works, or just taking the risk out of a live demo. Monosnap is like a non-Evernote-tainted Skitch and I use it all the time for taking screenshots and annotating them.

I store all my passwords in 1Password but I've had enough bad experiences with iCloud to only sync it with Dropbox. I try to store everything in Dropbox and use Selective Sync pretty carefully to avoid filling up my entire hard drive.

As far as apps that live on my menubar, Caffeine, Day-O, and Next Meeting each do a single thing well.

I use Nativefier to create SSBs for both Gmail and Google Calendar. I listen to music on Spotify, but occasionally I'll use Cog to listen to some mp3s or iTunes to stream from my iTunes Match collection.

Whenever I'm writing Markdown, like right now when I'm writing the answers to these questions, I use MacDown. I also spend a fair amount of time writing in Sublime Text in Distraction Free Mode, Google Docs, and Dropbox Paper.

I use OmniGraffle to create flowcharts, Keynote for presentations, and Photoshop for image manipulation. Highlight is useful for pasting syntax highlighted code into a Keynote slide.

What would be your dream setup?

In most places I've worked, I've slowly acquired monitors until there's no room left on my desk to add any more until I do an ergo evaluation and they convince me to get rid of them all. For this reason, I'll be happy to switch to a VR headset as my primary display when they are high resolution enough to not make me want to throw up after using them for sustained periods of time.

My dream keyboard would probably be a Rama M65-A with an entire row of Jellykey keycaps. I imagine this interfacing with something like the Logitech BRIDGE so that it would work seamlessly in VR.

I have a Jeremiah Collection laptop desk and wouldn't mind the larger version of it, but I live in SF. I guess in my dream setup, the median price per square foot of space in SF would be lower.

For my video game console collection, I wouldn't mind a grid of Sony BVM-20F1U broadcast monitors hooked up to XRGB-mini Framemeisters. I'd love to mod both my top-loading NES with a Hi-Def NES upgrade kit and my N64 with an UltraHDMI upgrade kit. I already have a 1CHIP SNES but a SNES Mini with a THS7314 RGB bypass amp would be a nice addition. For my Dreamcast, a GDEMU or USB-GDROM to replace the optical drive would help future proof it.

Now that the GameCube WaveBird, the best gaming controller of all time, is compatible with the Nintendo Switch, I wouldn't mind picking up a couple of those with and a Wii U controller adapter.

I've considered replacing my pen plotter with an AxiDraw V3 because I see it pop up all the time on #plottertwitter.

As far as software is concerned, I jumped ship from Windows to OS X around 10.6 "Snow Leopard", but with every new release of OS X, I feel like it's getting further and further away from an OS that helps me as a software developer. I think it's still better than Windows, despite the WSL, and the old joke that this year will be the year of Linux on the desktop still remains. I learned the hard way that developing for VR on OS X is an exercise in futility, so I'm hoping that something better comes around that replaces all of these - something that fulfills the original promise of UI/UX that "just works", a healthy app ecosystem, and the Linux toolchain that we expect.