Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

David Lawrence Miller

David Lawrence Miller

Ecological statistician

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm David Lawrence Miller, and I work as an ecological statistician at various places (currently between the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation in Hobart, Tasmania and the University of St Andrews in Scotland). I spend a lot of time thinking about how to model where animals are in space and how we can use those models to count them better. Much of my time is spent doing modelling of whales, but I like to be fairly species-agnostic.

For fun I like to make weird things with computers, usually involving some kind of stochasticity. I've written a few Twitter bots, the most famous of which is @birdcolourbot which tweets the colours (as identified by humans) of various North American birds (a little write-up it got in NYT). I also wrote @transect575 which takes observer comments from survey data looking for whales, and builds haikus.

What hardware do you use?

I currently use a 2013 MacBook Air - it's the best computer I've ever bought. It seems to still be working fine, though I am dreading the next upgrade. I use a Nifty MiniDrive with a 128Gb SD card to store large things (music, movies, datasets) without having to cart around an external hard disk (get the fastest, largest card you can!). If I need to do "serious" computing, I send my jobs to a server called isbjørn (polar bear) in St Andrews with more cores/RAM than I can count.

I'm about 2m tall so most of my hardware is really about making using a computer comfortable.. At home I use the largest Dell monitor (propped up with some of my wife's economics textbooks) I could afford a few years ago and an Ikea height-adjustable desk with an Aeron for when I sit. I use a Kinesis Freestyle II keyboard; top tip is to get some grip tape to put on some of the letters so you can find your way round when you start using it. I also use a 3M EM500 vertical mouse, though avoid mousework as much as possible.

When I travel I take the keyboard and the Roost stand; both can fit in hand luggage fairly easily. I have a Tom Bihn Brain Cell vertical case for extra laptop protection (after an unfortunate overheating situation caused by a previous laptop turning itself on in my bag a few years ago).

I don't really care about mobile phones aside from their camera, eBird (for birding) and Tweetbot (for Twitter). I have an iPhone SE because it's pretty much the smallest functional phone I could find that has a good camera.

For mathematics, I tend to use a Lamy Studio extra fine point fountain pen (Lamy ink seems to be good), a couple of colours of Muji gell ballpoints and a large hardback Moleskine plain notebook (people who do maths on lined paper freak me out).

For bird watching I carry Monarch 3 8x42s and use a cheap adapter for the iPhone, which lets me take nice-ish photos. I think paper guides are still ahead of phone-based ones for now (aside from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Merlin app for North America).

Sony MDR-V6s are easily the best headphones I've ever owned. They are not good for walking around/travel but for sitting in a quiet office, they are perfect. I am regularly pleased by how good they sound and how comfortable they are for long periods (you can get replacement covers, which are much more comfortable than the faux-leather ones they come with).

And what software?

I spend 80% of my time in the terminal (iTerm2) and the rest in Thunderbird. vim is where most of my code/paper editing happens, when writing papers, I use Papers citation manager to quickly insert references (set up to pop-up search in any context with a double tap of ctrl) - this is the only thing that keeps me using that program but it saves a lot of time.

Almost all my programming is done in R. I write most of my analyses in R Markdown then convert to LaTeX/PDF/HTML as necessary.

Almost everything I do ends up in git, I use git-prompt to show the status of the working repo in my bash prompt.

Sitting in my menubar is Arq (backup), Caffeine (stops your Mac sleeping), 1Password and f.lux (set to pretty red all the time, for the sake of my eyes).

What would be your dream setup?

Something that's both small and rugged would be great -- an indestructible MacBook Air 11" would be perfect. I haven't looked at non-Mac laptops in a while, but given Apple's increasing complications with cloud-based solutions, I'm thinking of going back to Linux (after 13 years on Mac). A more portable version of the Kinesis keyboard would be great too.

I'd love something better than Thunderbird to deal with e-mail, especially for large inboxes that does modern stuff like deferring mail -- I've yet to find something open and usable.

I'm relatively happy with what I have at the moment software-wise. Turning the question on its head, I think my nightmare setup would involve having everything be cloud-based. I really value being offline and not having constant pinging of e-mail/twitter/etc. Most of my current setup involves asynchronous communication with the internet, and this suits me very well.