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 Tom MacWright

Tom MacWright

Developer, musician

in developer, mac, musician

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi! I'm Tom MacWright. I maintain some open source software, like a statistics library and a presentation system. I also write at macwright.com, publish photos, write educational resources, do illustrations, and record music solo and with bands like Teen Mom.

Previously, I helped start a mapping company and a visualization company.

What hardware do you use?

I use - and this is embarrassing to admit - two nearly identical late-2019 16" MacBook Pros, one for work and other as my personal laptop. I put a sticker on one so I can tell them apart, but they're often stacked on my desk. It's much more power than I need for anything, though they were helpful when I was diving into the Rust programming language. I also have a work pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones sitting next to a personal pair of Sony WH-1000XM2. The redundancy was less apparent when work and home were in different places.

During the day, I keep my laptop closed and plugged into a not-cheap-enough Dell monitor, the P2415Q, a Keychron K2, which I use only because its layout is almost identical to the built-in keyboard, and a Logitech MX Anywhere 2S, which - like the Keychron - can switch between the two computers with a little button. I'm a strong believer in using only one good display.

For illustrations, I draw with Micron pens, paint with Sakura watercolors, and scan everything in with a CanoScan LiDE 120. I also use a Draft/Matic mechanical pencil for sketching before inking, and the essential super Hi-polymer erasers for making that phase invisible.

I shoot film photos with an 80s Olympus XA-2, which lives up to its reputation in every way, and digital photos with an Olympus PEN-F, which is perfect except for the battery life. Thankfully San Francisco has a still-operating store that does film development. Most of the photos on the Pen-F use Panasonic lenses like their LUMIX G 25mm, which are affordable and great.

In bands, I play a 90s American Standard Telecaster and an 80s Fender Bullet Bass Deluxe. At home, I spend more time with my banjo, an Enoch Tradesman which I found secondhand, slightly customized by its previous owner. It will probably outlast me.

And what software?

I do a lot of writing. Most of the code in neovim, and most of the English in iA Writer. Part of my brain has melded into vim, so I can't express an opinion on whether anyone should use it, but the plugins that folks like Tim Pope and Junegunn Choi have been developing for the last decade are wonderful. neovim lives in iTerm2, which George has been steadily improving for a decade.

For photos, I switched to Capture One a few years ago and have never looked back: it's super organized and powerful. I always shoot camera RAW now because it can do such magic with processing. I use Affinity Photo for additional processing, which doesn't feel as familiar or powerful as Photoshop, but I can't bring myself to pay the Adobe tax. Figma does the job for quick vector graphics on the blog and prototyping at work. The process of publishing photos is a little complicated but the most important part is VIPS, which handles resizing and converting images.

I've tried a lot of digital audio workstations but always return to GarageBand. If it's good enough for St. Vincent, it's good enough for me.

Stitching the whole thing together, I couldn't live without Alfred to quickly launch apps, Fantastical to quickly schedule things, and CardHop to make my address book a viable Facebook replacement, and The Archive for keeping facts out of my head.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream technology is e-ink. Right now it's slow, expensive, and mostly monochrome, but if there was a laptop with a paper-like screen - a Kindle with a mechanical keyboard and neovim installed, I would switch in an instant. I want fewer things glowing.

I'd like ThinkPad hardware but running macOS, or a variant of Linux that really, truthfully, never requires one to tweak driver settings or read a forum. Oh, and for someone to invent a version of Caffenol that works for color photos too.

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