Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Drew Conway

Drew Conway

Researcher (terrorism, maths, stats, machine learning)

Who are you, and what do you do?

Currently, I am a fully time PhD student at New York University, where I research micro-level conflict, such as terrorism and civil war, using the tools from mathematics, statistics, and machine learning. I also run a blog, called Zero Intelligence Agents, where I discuss this intersection as well as machine learning, networks, and data visualization more generally. I spend just about all of my time trying to figure out how to extract more meaning from data, and then constructing useful stories around those discoveries.

What hardware do you use?

Most ideas start in a lined notebook with a multicolor pen for scribbling. If I can ever get my hands on a graphing paper notebook I prefer that, but I never seem to be able to hang on to those. Once those ideas are ready for some crunching, I have a 15" display 2 GHz MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM as my primary machine. I also have an old (circa 2008) ThinkPad with Ubuntu 11 installed, for when Mac OS is giving me fits with an installation.

When I am at my desk, I have the MBP hooked up to a 21" display, and my Bose Quiet Comfort noise canceling headphones jacked in so I can fully lock into the task at hand. I also have access to ample whiteboard space in my office, which often acts as the midway point between pen and paper ideas and code. I am still waiting for a clever company to come along and figure out a something to replace the whiteboard, but in the meantime I am happy to work with my dry erase pens.

And what software?

The Dock in OS X is very telling. I use Sparrow for email (even after upgrading to OS X Lion), Chrome for browsing, and Echofon for Twitter. For actual "work" I spend most of my time in a text editor, and I am a huge fan of TextMate, despite the fact that it has been abandoned. At this point I have programmed in so many key-stroke combos to my TextMate that I might as well be in Emacs, but alas. The only text editor exception I make is for doing blog posts, where I use MarsEdit. It is a great little app for strictly doing blog posts, and is especially useful if you maintain more than one.

My primary programming languages are Python and R, but not necessarily in that order. I am a huge fan of ipython for doing Python hacking at the command-line, and am super excited for the next big release. I am slowly warming to RStudio as a possible alternative to doing all my R coding between TextMate and the R console, but given the amount of effort I have put into customizing TextMate it is still a ways off. For writing and slide decks I stick exclusively to LaTeX and beamer respectively, and when I simply HAVE to open a Word document I use OpenOffice.

What would be your dream setup?

In an ideal world I could split my hardware needs between work and everything else. For the work portion I would have unlimited AWS credit, and a cache of tailored AMIs stored so I could spin up whatever kind of instance I needed to get the job done. Then for everything else, I could just carry around one of those sexy new MacBook Airs to check email and Twitter, and occasionally running command-line queries to get the status of my EC2 jobs.

In the meantime, however, I would settle for an upgrade to 8GM of RAM in my current MBP and one of those gorgeous Apple Cinema displays to plug it into. Also, if someone were feeling really generous I would take two Apple Cinema displays, and have a true hacking command center!

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