Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Julia Evans

Julia Evans

Developer (Stripe), cartoonist, zine maker

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Julia Evans. I write a blog about programming, where I talk about how stuff works and occasionally post fun software I wrote (did you know how relational databases work? They use btrees! Here's why, and how it works! It's really cool!) I also draw zines to explains topics that I am especially excited about and make some comics/drawings which I usually post at @b0rk.

Basically I think a lot of explanations of programming stuff are both unnecessarily boring and unnecessarily complicated. Often it's possible to explain even complicated things like operating systems in a simple way! So I try to explain interesting stuff to other developers like me in a way that makes sense, without dumbing it down or leaving out the important technical parts.

I really like to figure out how computer things work. I work as a software engineer at Stripe.

What hardware do you use?

I have a ThinkPad X230 and I like it. My choices about what to type on are pretty boring. I don't own a monitor or a mouse or a keyboard.

But I have a story about hardware for comics! I started drawing comics one day because my wrists hurt and I couldn't blog. It turns out that they're a good way to explain stuff even if you can literally only draw stick figures like me so I kept doing it. I started out by drawing comics about computers in Sharpie on paper! That was fun, but it's hard to erase Sharpie and cleaning up the photos was too much work and I am pretty lazy. Today I use either a Samsung Galaxy Tab, or a Samsung Chromebook Plus. It took me a long time to find the tablet of my dreams -- the iPad & Apple Pencil are beautiful, but also incredibly expensive and, well, they don't run Android. It turns out that Samsung makes cheap Android tablets that you can draw on! A Chromebook Plus is half the price, runs both Linux and Android apps, and lets me go from programming to drawing a comic about computer networking in 60 seconds! The stylus is laggier and less magical than the Apple Pencil but the software is so much more useful to me that I don't mind.

I keep my spices in 32 125ml Mason jars and my beans & grains in 18 larger jars. It makes me happy to see dozens of jars in my kitchen every day.

And what software?

I write my blog in the Hugo static site generator. I commissioned a theme for it from my amazing friend Lea (who works on programming 3D knitting machines!!). When I want someone to review my writing, I use Google Docs. I code in Sublime Text or vim, and use git for everything. I don't really keep backups and most of the stuff I really need day-to-day is on my public github anyway. My shell is fish and I run Ubuntu 16.04 with Unity. I write Python, Go, Ruby, and Rust mostly. I've been using Linux on my personal computer for 13 years now so I'm pretty attached to it. This year I set up wireless printing on Linux and it only took like 40 minutes! We truly live in the future of Linux on the desktop :)

And Twitter! Twitter is so fun! I can write a comic about how /proc works on Linux, post it on Twitter, and within 24 hours a whole bunch of people have learned a new thing. It's an amazing way to put ideas and blog posts out there out there and find out what people like and get some quick feedback about what makes sense and what doesn't.

My coding/writing software choices are all pretty boring at this point. When I was a teenager in 2004-2005 I would spend so much time configuring my latest favorite minimal window manager because I had a laptop with 64MB of RAM (which my mom got me!! My mom is awesome and I am so happy she bought me computers to do weird software stuff on!) and it really was not gonna run GNOME. I also used Hacked Links as a web browser because Firefox was too slow. Now I am tired of configuring software (and I have a fast computer!!) and I would rather spend my spare time writing about amazing computer things I've learned than configuring Arch Linux :) :)

But software for drawing! People! Drawing software on tablets is weird. Here are some features I want to make drawings: (which are generally stick figures)

  • Make drawings ("notebooks") with more than one page and easily export to PDF
  • A tool that can make squares
  • The ability to easily change the pen size and then go back to the old size in less than a minute
  • Copy and paste parts of a drawing
  • Clone a notebook so I can edit the clone
  • Make any size canvas I want
  • Makes vector images

It turns out that most drawing tools don't let you have more than one page. (like Procreate on iPad and Infinite Design / Autodesk SketchBook on Android). When I started out, I would make them one page at a time and then manually rearrange them in the right order into a PDF. GoodNotes on iPad incomprehensibly does not have a tool that lets you make squares (you need to draw the square by hand and hope that the software magically recognizes that it was a square and straightens it up for you). Any given tablet drawing software seems to have some arbitrary subset of these features, but none of them have them all.

Anyway, I use Squid on Android and it's very very good. There are some weird gotchas -- I have to pick from maybe 8 fixed canvas sizes and I can't add more (want 200 x 300 pixels? Too bad!!), and it's impossible to copy documents (if I want 2 versions of a 10-page document I can go page by page and copy each page one at a time).

I use it to draw small drawings that I put on Twitter, 20-pages zines (like about computer networking!) and slides for my talks. It's great.

What would be your dream setup?

I don't really like desks. I spend most of my time working on the couch, so I would like a couch that is good for my back. Also a tablet that has hardware as nice as the Apple Pencil but runs Android.

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