Uses This


What do people use to get the job done?

Neha Narula

Neha Narula

PhD student, data scientist, developer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Neha Narula. I'm a PhD student at MIT in Computer Science, studying distributed, scalable databases and storage systems. I'm also interested in how we find and consume news on the web. This summer I was a data scientist at Digg (formerly

In a previous life I was a Software Engineer at Google, where I worked on Native Client, Blobstore, and Froogle.

What hardware do you use?

For research I use a modern PC running Ubuntu. The rest of the time I use a 13 inch MacBook Air from October 2010, which I adore with all of my being. For running experiments, I spin up servers on Amazon EC2 or use a 48 core Linux machine we have in our lab.

If I'm going to be typing a lot, I need my Kinesis Advantage. I've had RSI problems in the past and this keyboard, though it looks strange, has helped a lot. There was a two week frustration period when I switched, but I can type much faster now. I have made the right Control key sticky, which helps a lot with emacs.

I have an iPad 2 and a Samsung Nexus S, which is starting to show its age. I use a Revo HTPC running Windows 7 connected to my TV for watching movies and TV. It's not ideal.

For thinking, I usually have a full-sized Rhodia notebook and a decent pen. Nothing beats writing to get the mind flowing, but I find that I need to feel like it's ok to mar the clean blank pages.

At home I have B&W CM5 speakers, an Anthem 225 integrated amp, a Music Hall 25.2 DAC, and a record player. I download high bitrate MP3s or FLAC and hook up my laptop or the Revo to the DAC using USB. I just got a Logitech Harmony 650 remote to replace my TV, cable, and amp remotes.

And what software?

On my research machine I basically live inside Chrome, emacs, a terminal, and git. I use the common assortment of unix commands, and screen on almost every server to maintain my state. To make it easy to work anywhere I ssh into my Ubuntu box from my MacBook Air and resume where I left off. I mostly program in C, C++, and Python.

At Digg, I finally started properly programming on my Mac. I used Firefox/Chrome to maintain my work/personal gmail sessions, Hipchat to keep in touch with my team, iTerm full screen, Emacs, and iPython.

Within Python I used scipy, numpy, and matplotlib a fair amount this summer. Once you know how, it's really easy to quickly plot data. If I need a quick webserver, I'll use Flask or Tornado. If need a datastore I'll use MySQL or Redis.

I use RescueTime on all my machines to get a rough idea of how much work I'm getting done each week. It can be depressing to realize how much time you spend dealing with email.

I use SizeUp to use keyboard shortcuts to move windows between monitors and position them effectively. I use Evernote to store all of my random thoughts and lists because it syncs so effortlessly. There's no Linux version so on my Ubuntu box I use the web app in Chrome, which could be better. I also love the Evernote Web Clipper Chrome extension; I can use it to easily save research ideas and things I want to buy later. Mightytext is another great Chrome extension -- I use it to see and respond to text messages and missed calls on my computer while I'm working, because I usually end up leaving my phone in my bag on silent and forget to check it for 8 hours at a time.

I use Pocket as a read-it-later service, but I've found that I never actually go back to read what I've saved. It seems to be write-only.

My iPad is completely a consumption device; I mostly use the Kindle app, Zite, Twitter, Mail, Chrome, and Safari.

What would be your dream setup?

Ideally I would use my mouse as little as possible. It's slow and makes my hands hurt -- I wish more software had keyboard shortcuts.

I wish that apps worked better together on my iPad. I like the Android way that any app can create a hook to handle sharing -- I wish iOS did this too. As an example, I would rather use the Chrome app as the default to open all links.

I also want a non-crippled home media system that is clean, simple, and beautiful. The idea that hardware providers have to make deals with services that I order and pay for is ridiculous (it's even worse when they try to charge me for the pleasure; Xbox Live I'm looking at you). If I have a Netflix account, it should just work on everything.