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 Mars Buttfield-Addison

Mars Buttfield-Addison

Developer, PhD candidate

in developer, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Mars Buttfield-Addison but you may know me as @TheMartianLife. I'm currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Tasmania, working with CSIRO's Data61 to investigate the ways machine learning methods can improve our ability to reliably and accurately identify and track objects in orbit using existing radio astronomy resources—particularly small fragment space debris. This is my latest in a number of roles that involve designing AI-powered solutions for complex domains across industry and academia. In addition to this day job, I am also:

  • a frequent volunteer and tech speaker at industry events all over the world;
  • a teaching and research assistant at my university;
  • a freelance software developer and author of educational materials—including Practical AI with Swift for O'Reilly Media (as Mars Geldard), and related books still in the works;
  • a conference organiser of /dev/world and EveryWorld,
  • an industry council member (AUC National, prev. ACS Tasmania) and community advocate in the field of Swift and Apple platform development; and
  • a member of the WesterosCraft project team that is slowly recreating the entire world of Game of Thrones in Minecraft...

...among many other side hustles.

What hardware do you use?

I share a 32m² (345ft²) micro-apartment with my husband who is also in tech and we even share a desk, so at home we each just have a home-built mini tower computer with a single monitor. Mine is a Cougar QBX case with a teeny tiny ASRock X570 motherboard, a Ryzen 5 2600, an NVIDIA 1060, and 32GB RAM. My peripherals are a small Keychron K1 keyboard, a RIG 800 headset, and the best mouse in the world: the Gigabyte AIVIA M8600. My monitor is just the cheapest 28" Kogan monitor I could find when my last decade-old monitor died and it's the worst. And our whole house runs off a single AirPort Extreme.

But I move around a lot between my university office and home and travelling for conferences, so I also have to be highly portable. Most of my work is done on a 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro (i9, with 32GB memory and dedicated graphics) that I love to pieces; I can train complex machine learning models on-device in a matter of hours, and I do graphics stuff and have like 400 million tabs and papers open all the time and it doesn't miss a beat. It also works great with the new USB-C YubiKeys.

I also own a second-hand iPhone 8, a series 3 Apple Watch, and an old iPad Pro with first-gen Apple Pencil that I use for proper work things like teaching and prototyping but that I mostly got so I could watch Star Trek at the gym. And I have an eGPU made up of a hand-me-down Radeon R9 290 GPU in a Razer Core X case that I bought on sale and intended to use to accelerate some of my machine learning or rendering work but it's slightly annoying to setup in macOS and cloud resources are so easy nowadays that I really just use it to play video games on my MacBook.

And what software?

My most important tasks of a day are research writing and coding. Though Microsoft Word is sometimes an inescapable fact of life, wherever possible I like to typeset beautiful documents in LaTeX with Texpad. For code, where I used to use Xcode for Swift and BBEdit for everything else, I have increasingly migrated to Visual Studio Code. Likewise, it's great for fast composition of documents from simple Markdown or plain text with its Markdown PDF extension. Along with my overnight adoption of Deckset for presentations (thanks Vicky!), this increased use of Markdown for my non-research written work has encouraged me more and more to keep it in version control on GitHub as I do with code. So even for my PhD project, my supervisors and I collaborate on a private repository of Markdown documents that keep a history of our meeting notes and ideas and proposals as they evolve.

For the research side I manage resources with ReadCube Papers (or just BibDesk if I'm lazy) and I have every flavour of web browser—though Safari is my favourite. And when one of my side-hustles inevitably calls for imagery I do graphics work in the all-powerful Sketch, drawing on my iPad in Procreate and final edits in Pixelmator Pro. I also use a bit of the Unity game engine to teach AI concepts and make 3D bots. It's great but I would also like to learn Godot Engine as an open source alternative that's a bit more accessible.

I manage passwords with 1Password, block ads with 1Blocker, diff files with Kaleidoscope, manage memory with DaisyDisk, and keep everything backed up with Backblaze and Time Machine. Comms happen through Fastmail email, Twitter, Discord, Zoom, or Slack (if I absolutely have to).

What would be your dream setup?

I'm not super unhappy with what I have now. I like to reduce waste by using hand-me-downs and I've pretty much gotten used to working with whatever I have. If I could change anything about my setup anywhere it would be more about wishing I had a magical way to block background noise in my office when I'm on a call or something. Maybe some extra room to put a second monitor or some cool dock or switches so I could use the same peripherals with both of my computers without unplugging everything or re-arranging my desk. Some futuristic modular suitcase so I could take my whole setup to LANs, maybe. Or more indoor plants?

In my wildest dreams I'd take a 3090 graphics card and some huge complicated gamer computer setup that people call a "battlestation" and that looks like the cockpit of a spaceship and has monitors everywhere, but I don't need it. As long as I've got things that work, I'm good 🙂

Uses This is supported by ZSA, makers of the Moonlander, ErgoDox EZ and Planck EZ keyboards. They also publish an awesome newsletter.