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 Charlie Loyd
Photo by Jacques Tardie.

Charlie Loyd

Geo developer, Earth fanatic (Mapbox)

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Charlie Loyd, and I'm on the satellite imagery team at Mapbox. With my teammates, I've worked on projects like Cloudless Atlas, Landsat Live, disaster response, and maintaining the basemap. I also tweet too much about Earth observation, tamales, and the common names of plants and animals; write a similarly diffuse newsletter, increasingly irregularly; and am looking for Space Shuttle tile records.

I made Glittering Blue.

What hardware do you use?

At work we're on small MacBook Pros with maxed-out RAM and external monitors on standing desks. What matters is the RAM, for ridiculous images - mural-size TIFFs that were never meant to be viewed directly. The laptops are scratchpads and network terminals. Production code runs in a datacenter somewhere, on hardware that must generate the heat and sound of an overloaded A380 flying straight up. We're carbon-neutral, so I assume we've funded an entire forest somewhere.

At home, I've just given up on a mid-2010 15" MacBook. I'd patched it with an SSD (and thermochromic microbeads to see where it gets hottest), but it's not up to everyday use anymore. So I got the tiniest Macbook and a wee little bag. The lappy is underpowered, almost portless, and impossible to upgrade - just a typewriter made out of Unix. It's great so far.

Also with me when walking around: An Anker battery, an iPhone (sometimes daubed with retroreflective beads in a nail gloss matrix, for in-pocket orientation and grip), and a Bad Elf logger with location and barometry. The Everlane Twill Snap is a bit Kinfolk/VSCO but it works. I've been alternating between the yacht-sail wallet that William Gibson tipped and the Hello Kitty Tyvek. My favorite notebook to rarely use is a Rhodia webnotebook, but most of what I do handwrite and doodle is on folded-up charcoal paper. Bic Cristals are light, safe to carry loose in a bag, not blotty, and more expressive than most expensive pens. Faber-Castell Pitts when I'm feeling zhooshy. (Incidentally, for printmaking and large papercraft, the trick is to go in with friends on a giant shipment of Rives BFK.)

On the camera shelf: A Nikon FE and a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor-S - a half-century-old manual lens that's sharp, affordable, and has pleasingly old-fashioned flares. It's sometimes attached to a Canon DSLR (occasionally running Magic Lantern), which has Canon non-L primes and a few toys. And the silly one: a Mamiya RZ67 II, a medium format film camera from the '90s, with the 110mm f/2.8. That lens... 😍.

And what software?

Safari is my web browser. It doesn't support WebP or every HTML5 feature yet, but it's reliable, clean, and fast. I'm biased toward vanilla apps. I fear the brittleness of overoptimized workflows.

Most of my client side software that doesn't come with OS X is open source, for all the obvious reasons. (Especially reproducibility. I get questions about geo image processing workflows, and advice in terms of free tools is much more accessible.) I do have Photoshop, just as a fancy viewer, and Lightroom. Like many people who've been broke, I'm permanently wary of subscriptions for things that feel more like objects than like services - that's how you get nickel and dimed. Paying for quality up front feels fine: for example, Triplicate makes monospaced reading almost painless. (Fira Sans for headers and as a free web font.)

Text typed on my own behalf starts as Markdown. I do my coding and writing in TextMate, which looks like this. It's not the most flexible or powerful, but the dominant limit on my productivity is my brain, not my text editor. The system-wide text bindings are handy - for example, ctrl-{k,y} provide a limited second clipboard.

For programming: Python! Lots of numpy, a library for math on n-dimensional arrays (like images). To socket it onto our work, my teammates wrote rasterio, which moves data neatly among numpy, GDAL, and georeferenced images.

Wolfram Alpha for Fermi estimates. iD for editing OpenStreetMap - again, it's not The Homer of OSM editors, but its friction is so low that I can pop in and trace for 90 seconds without breaking stride. On a fresh computer, I install geojsonio, htop, parallel, pv, netcat, postgresql, unison, tmux, and zsh. pb{copy,paste} are useful GUI-CLI bridges.

On iOS: The apps I recommend most are Signal, Spectrogram Pro, SensorLog, Barograph, Dark Sky, VesselTracker, and iFlares. I still like Twitter and I'm fine with Instagram, but Taptalk is my favorite social network right now: personal, ambiguous, ephemeral.

What would be your dream setup?

Obviously, vision into ultraviolet and infrared is the big thing. Finer spectral resolution is also a persistent need, to get more perceived colors and fewer metamers.

A writing app with a proportional font, git and Markdown integration, and a curly quote algorithm that gets "rock 'n' roll 7″s from the '80s" right. (Miss you, Editorially.)

Look, just an iPhone 4S with upgraded guts and a few material/shape tweaks. All the half-tablet, half-plastic, half-day smartphones lately are fine or whatever I guess. We can all imagine something better, something that you heft and instantly understand that a dozen Kraftwerk-lookin' nerds left Leica by dirigible for a hilltop studio in San Miguel de Allende to design it with Rotring pens under the codirection of Tomita Mikiko and Ben Osawe. I speak for millions, probably tens of millions. But instead we get these phones that feel slightly ahead of themselves.

Too many of my daily tools are overfitted. What could I be using that's not designed by and for affluent Anglophone citydwellers pretty much like me? I want to be learning more from my gear. One of my favorite designers is a blacksmith, Jim Wester, who makes blades for woodworking. Carvers all over the world use his adzes and knives. As a lark, sometimes he makes cutlery, and I have one of his paring knives. It breaks all sorts of kitchen knife norms: it's obviously not designed by a chef. You sharpen it at a shallow angle, because it has an idiosyncratic bevel; its handle expects a slightly different motion than you do; it's tool steel, not stainless, so you have to worry about rust - and so on. It's weird. And I expect to use it and love it until, many years from now, I wear it out. It cuts like a cartoon laser. Its weirdness comes from the hand and mind of a master, and it's precious to me. My dream setup has more of that feeling.