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Hugo Liu

Taste researcher, Chief Scientist (Hunch)

in mac, scientist

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Hugo Liu. I'm the Chief Scientist at Hunch, a web app that learns about you, then predicts things you'll like, using a massive taste graph. I've been researching taste at the MIT Media Lab for the past nine years. In between I worked in fashion predictives, and computational food design. At MIT I teach philosophy of aesthetics, and artificial intelligence. I also advise some pretty interesting startups on product design.

What hardware do you use?

"Luxury lies not in richness and ornateness but in the absence of vulgarity," Coco Chanel once said. Harkening to this, I strive to employ just the essential "hardware" I need to flourish, while shedding everything else. As Notorious B.I.G. liked to say, "Mo Polygons Mo Problems."

Let's start at the office. My primary machine is a 15" MacBook Pro that drives a 30" Cinema display. I'm a stickler for Apple products and base configurations. On the go, I travel with a 11" MacBook Air, and an iPhone. My earphones are ER4 MicroPros. They are my best accessory. They play music elegantly, without disturbing levels of bass, and are indispensable in noisy coffee shops.

I love the aesthetics of creating on paper. I use Classic Pocket Squared Moleskines exclusively to brainstorm ideas, take notes, and scribble designs. I write with 05 Pigma Micron pens in Sepia, and doodle with 005 Pigma Micron pens in Blue-Black.

And then, there is sartorial hardware. My strategy is to find style while avoiding fashion. I like to source goods from Rick Owens and Robert Geller because they epitomize this idea. I own a lot of black v-neck tees and a couple of hooded sweaters that are totally worn out. Actually, I like to wear everything out. It's a satisfying counterpoint to a world driven by careless consumption. My clothes tend to come in shades of black. I am particularly fond of layering black on black on black.

Other hardware dear to me are: a Jade Fusion mat that I practice yoga on; a Bianchi fixie that gets me around town; and a Le Creuset Dutch Oven that I cook about half my meals in.

And what software?

I like to hack in Python using Emacs in a Terminal window. My blog lives in a MySQL table, with about a hundred lines of Python to render it. For word processing I use GMail.

I am a compulsive organizer, and a huge fan of Getting Things Done. I use my Moleskines and iPhone's default Notes app to collect todos that come to mind. I then transfer these items into Things, a super handy app for managing todos, projects, and life goals. My planner is Google Calendar. I use Google Spreadsheets to manage my relationships, and to help me make life decisions both big and small - for example, where to live, places to travel, or what to be for halloween.

My design stack is simple. I use Adobe Illustrator to create website and app wireframes, using a basic palette of Helvetica Nueue, rectangles, and eight shades of gray. I like designs that can be coded using only CSS.

My linux servers live at MediaTemple. I use rsync to backup my documents and media to the cloud. Over the years, I have pared down my total data footprint to about 30GB.

Finally, the iPhone apps I use most frequently are: foursquare, camera+, buddha machine, exit strategy, and greplin.

What would be your dream setup?

Oh the #firstworldproblems we have!

A MacBook Pro that drives multiple external displays. I have actually dreamt of more screen space.

Laptops with true sunlight readable displays. Because it's just so hard to work at the beach right now.

A wearable, one-touch recorder that captures conversations and todo items. It syncs to the cloud. Because by the time I open an iPhone app, that big idea could be long gone.