Uses This


What do people use to get the job done?

Peter Richardson

Peter Richardson

Map hacker (Mapzen)

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Peter Richardson, and I make unusual maps at Mapzen in New York. As part of the graphics team I work on demos and tools and write blog posts, most notably about the projection mapping and terrain lighting. Generally this means finding ways to make free data cheaper. The things I am best at are typing, and drawing on the whiteboard.

When I get the chance I ask awkward questions about obvious things at and make time-lapse videos, mostly of empty rooms.

What hardware do you use?

I use whatever, at work we have a bunch of laptops and phones of various kinds for testing and so on. My computers keep dying or failing in various ways – I used to be really into getting everything just like I like it, but I've had to reinstall everything so many times I've been trained to not be so picky. I think it's happening more often to me lately because I don't have the time to babysit computers like I used to.

So now within arm's reach I have an older refurbed 15" MacBook Pro with a new logic board because I burned out the GPU on the old one, and a newer slower more reliable one I got to replace it but which will only drive my external monitor at 30 hz, and a Windows laptop and some others from home and overall I use the big MacBook most, but I don't find that my work really differs at all from one to another. More and more I prefer the slow machines because more people have slow machines, and that way I know what more people will see when they look at what I do. Also the slower ones are generally lighter, so it's easier to carry them around and show things to people.

At home I have a Windows box which I've upgraded ship-of-Theseus style for about 15 years. I don't think there are any parts of it left from the original machine. Maybe one of the fans. Windows 10 is really fast, and you can turn off all of the interface animation. Also you can copy a directory path straight from an Explorer window's address bar. That's probably my favorite thing about it.

If I could get a decent bash-like shell to run both git and node I'd use the PC more, but recently msysGit was abandoned in favor of Git for Windows which renders fonts funny and doesn't use Control-V for paste, so these days I mostly use the machine to assemble time-lapse videos I take on phones. I like making those because it's very easy to push a button on a phone and leave it somewhere and make something. Plus I find it's easier to do chores if I know I'll be able to watch it in the time-lapse, and that way I remember it going quickly.

I also have a second-gen 11" MacBook Air which is starting to lose its mind too – the interface animation gets slower every year, and I've turned it down as far as I can. Lately various internal services keep asking me to type my password over and over, and none of the fixes I've found online work, but I don't dare update the OS. It's still easy to carry and still runs all my demos, so I use it to keep me honest.

Sometimes I carry it in a bag. I have a lot of canvas book bags and they work well because the laptop isn't very heavy. I also have a bag made out of recycled bicycle tires.

If I'm going somewhere but don't need the laptop, I carry a 2-inch cylindrical pure tungsten element sample instead. It weighs about the same as the laptop, and I don't have to worry about dropping it.

What else. I wear a variety of fake Casio F-91W watches - you can get them in any color for $3 on eBay. You can get them cheaper than that, but every one I've bought at the lowest price point has a bend baked into its band where it was folded over in its package and then apparently stored en masse in a hot place. So they tend to slide around to the side of my wrist, and the batteries don't last very long but I don't think that's related. I've replaced the batteries in some of them but it's a tedious process involving a lot of disassembly so I only do that if I need to relax.

I use notebooks to write and draw in, I prefer black ones with no lines, but I use other kinds too. I like pens and pencils. I have lots of kinds of each, I don't know how I got so many.

I have an iPhone 5 I use for taking pictures, editing on the subway, listening to music on my Bluetooth earbuds, and receiving two-factor authentication text messages. I used to use it to read Pocket articles, but I uninstalled it about a month ago to clear space for pictures and music and it turned out the reading was really stressing me out - I can still feel my brain's fur settling back down, and I'm sleeping better now that I don't read stressful things on a phone in bed. So lately I've been reading books instead which I really enjoy. I might reinstall Pocket after the election but I think I prefer the photos and music.

I have a Russian paratrooper watch which was a birthday gift many years ago, which I love. It winds itself, but only when I wear it, and to advance the date manually you have to wind the hour back to 9pm and then past midnight. So normally I wait to wear it until the date matches, or is only a few days away.

The only piece of modern tech I'd actually recommend is a pair of Bluetooth earbuds. I have the Jaybird BlueBuds X, I like them. They've been discontinued but as I write this you can still find them. It turns out I've spent a lot of time in my life fighting headphone cords, and I'm happier now that I don't.

The oldest human artifact in my house, to my knowledge, is a pen nib from the late 1800s.

Once in Oxford I saw some buildings which were made before the invention of chimneys.

And what software?

Most of my writing is done in the Mac OS Notes app. It's synced through iCloud, which has a web interface so I can use it on my PC, and also I can edit on my phone on the subway. I code in Sublime and I settled on iTerm because it fought me least. I mostly code in JavaScript, and sometimes I use bash, or Python when I can. I spend my time in browsers roughly proportional to their global usage statistics.

For the time-lapses I use a variety of buggy Android apps syncing images to Google Drive. The apps crash a lot which adds something to the result. Most of the time when I check on them I find that some kind of auto-update has stopped the capture, or frames have been dropped for unknown reasons which makes a jump in the time-lapse. My favorite is called Tina Time-lapse which sometimes shows a personal apology from the creator when it crashes which starts "Dear Friend" so I keep using it. But I can't ever count on getting anything in particular, which makes whatever I get feel really lucky. I'm trying to think that way more lately.

What would be your dream setup?

I'd like my own room with a door, and a comfortable chair and a window with a curtain so I can take a nap when I need to. Maybe someplace nearby I could walk to get a sandwich or a cup of coffee when I'm done with my nap.

I might eventually need a shed. Probably also a workbench with materials for experimenting with kite mapping. I've been reading up on the Reynolds number and I think there's a lot of work to be done in that area.