Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Vi Hart

Vi Hart

Mathemusician, philosopher

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Vi Hart, mathemusician and philosopher. I direct the virtual reality research group eleVR, though a lot of people know me from my side projects on YouTube or in games. I mix ideas and media to find the place where something can be said that was not said before, whether it be explaining ideas about math in a story-driven YouTube video, or explaining systemic bias through an interactive blog post, or exploring higher dimensional spaces in a virtual world full of monkeys.

I write, film, program, produce, edit, perform, collaborate. The variety of hardware and software I use on a daily basis is kind of terrifying.

What hardware do you use?

The short answer: all of it. My VR research group specializes in VR video, which means we deal with piles of experimental VR headsets, VR cameras, sound equipment and computers and tablets and phones, and our job is to use them all. I'm lucky to have enough research funding, and to be friends with enough companies, that we have access to a ton of cool stuff.

Cameras:

For regular (non VR) filming, I mostly use a Sony HDR-PJ790 Handycam. For VR filming, I'm recently obsessed with the Ricoh Theta camera. In the past year we've mostly used 14 GoPro Hero 3+ Black cameras with various holders, most of which we built ourselves, plus a 360Heros 3DH3PRO14H. We've also been playing with the Gyroptic 360cam devkit, and make regular use of many other cameras, especially the ones on our phones (mine is a Galaxy Nexus).

We use a variety of Manfrotto tripods and clamps, Joby grippy things in a few sizes, and oh so many other little things we use regularly. Lighting, green screen, reflectors.. I won't even start.

Sound:

At work or on location, I use a Zoom H6 mic/recorder, often with our Sennheiser G3 wireless lapel mics. At home I use a Rode NT1-A with a Focusrite Saffire 6. I keep trying different binaural and ambisonic mics, none of which I like enough to name. We have a Whisperroom that is good for recording, and also regularly gets used for people's Skype meetings, phone calls, and the occasional nap.

Right now I'm wearing a pair of Senal SMH-1000 headphones. I've got a bunch of different headphones at the office and at home, including these and a couple pairs of those neon green Razer headphones, hanging on 3M Command hooks, so that I don't need to suffer the indignity of listening to sound on laptop speakers, no matter where I wander.

VR:

For VR, in the past few months we've mostly been working with the Oculus Rift DK2 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 plus Wearality Sky prototype, though also regularly use the DK1 and Google Cardboards and things like it with Androids and iPhones and iPads and tablets and all that, and other things, and this will all change in a few months. We regularly try a lot of weird things for input, but so far nothing beats a good ol' reliable Xbox 360 wired controller.

Computers and Monitors:

For work I've been using a 15" MacBook Pro for the past year for basic emails, writing, normal video editing, and webVR development with the DK2 or Galaxy Note 4. I was hoping to be converted to Apple, but I'm not in love.

We do our heavy rendering on a Windows machine we built named Tessa, that right now is running three TITAN Blacks, two Xeon E5s, and other tasty things. She can do in 20 minutes what takes my MacBook Pro all night. We have this fully-loaded 17" Alienware "laptop" named Beast that mostly gets used for Unity and 3D modeling stuff these days.

We've got a pile of Mac Minis we use for public demos and installations with VR headsets, plus several AAXA P300 (a tiny portable projector), so that we can fit several VR demo installations in a single backpack. I really like Mac Minis for installations, especially since once we've got the headsets running we can unplug all external keyboards and projectors and everything, and it'll run as a self-contained unit for days on end (or until Apple decides it must interrupt with a request to update).

At work I've got a few Dell Ultrasharp 32 Ultra HD monitors and a couple different cobbled-together standing desks (one for using Tessa, one for putting laptops on), or else I use the MacBook while lounging on a couch. Right now I'm at an IKEA Björkudden Bar Table with a shoebox on top. At home I use an overturned pressure cooker.

I often work from my couch at home, using my hand-built PC ("Captain Terror") with an Epson projector and lightly modded HK speakers. I occasionally use my old Windows laptop ("Speed Racer") just because she's full of old licensed software I can't transfer. Every day begins and ends with working on the MacBook Pro in bed with a plastic LapGear lapdesk.

I like to pretend I use my Linux machine (a converted Chromebook), but, not so much. I know I'm going to have to properly convert to Linux eventually not because I want to but because it is in my nature and it is inevitable I will do this thing, but it's going to be painful and it's easy to delay it when my job allows me so much access to amazing machines with amazing software.

Mouse/keyboard:

For keyboards, most of my typing is done on the MacBook keyboard using just my inner fingers, sometimes a Kinesis contoured keyboard (the weird scoopy one) if my outer fingers aren't being the problem at the moment, and sometimes other keyboards. Switching things up is good. The light touch of the MacBook keyboard for three or four fingers is better than any "ergonomic" keyboard I've tried that's designed for five.

I use Adobe Premier Keyboard Stickers that have the hotkeys printed on them, with the added benefit that they make my keyboard pretty and colorful and identifiable, and that when people use my MacBook they can immediately see it's in DVORAK instead of just getting confused when they type gibberish.

For mice and trackpads too, I like a variety of shapes and sizes and styles to switch things up. I can't use just a mouse all day or just a trackpad all day. My mousepad is a MouseRug. It is essential to my mental health that my mouse live on this tiny Persian rug with fringe and everything.

I've used a lot of things to try and be more ergonomic. I think the biggest benefit of all that is that every moment I spend fussing over ergonomics is a moment not spent working. I'm not sure if it really matters that I switch setups, so much as that it is a ritual that allows me a short break when otherwise I work all day every day. Human hands are a brilliant yet fatally flawed bit of hardware.

Other office essentials:

Giant googly eyes. Breville Barista Express. We've got this pompom hanging on a thread from the ceiling that I bat at every time I walk by, and I think that's pretty important.

Analog:

I use regular fine-point Sharpies and Sharpie highlighters in a spiral notebook when filming or diagramming/sketching to myself. I use Sharpie pens for writing in my own notebooks, and a Pentel Graph Gear 1000 mechanical pencil for writing in the margins of books (they come in a variety of graphite sizes and I switch depending on the size and feel of the book and paper). I love Sharpie and Pentel.

I probably spend more time reading than anything else (besides writing emails..). I've got this strangely hilarious book-holder called The Book Seat that I like for fiction and for my Kindle (anything where I'm not writing in the book) - it's like a beanbag chair couch for books to hang out on, great for reading in bed or on couch. I guess between that and the MouseRug it's clear that I put a high priority on providing tiny versions of human furniture to inanimate objects.

I often use pipe cleaners, or scissors + colored cardstock + tape, when diagramming to myself in 3D. I use a dremel, sewing machine, soldering iron, felting needle, stapler, and balloons. Some of our best film work was done using multi-camera mounts made of foam core, hot glue, and gaff tape. We use a lot of gaff tape. I don't know why people obsess over duct tape when gaff tape is so clearly where it's at. Gaff tape really means it, in a way duct tape simply doesn't.

Music:

JVC L-F210 turntable with HK 3390 amp and Sony SS-U 532 speakers.

Ibanez guitar, Lanikai uke, pile of terrible violas, clarinets, recorders, etc. Modified fretless bass. Hohner harmonica and melodica. An eclectic pile of drum stuff and percussion. I rent time in a practice room with a nice drum set that constantly changes outside of my control, so I try not to get too attached, but I miss the old Zildjian ride cymbal that was there until recently. I'm liking the Vater Sweet Ride in sugar maple for jazz sticks right now (so light and whippy and subtle!).

I use Etymonic ER20 earplugs for not-too-loud stuff. The squeeze-case they come in is great design. Still use cheap foam earplugs for very loud stuff - they're hard to beat when it comes to pure noise reduction and portability.

My pride and joy is Béla, my Bösendorfer grand. My piano is the only good and pure thing in all the world, my light and my life. It's a little terrifying how much I care about her as compared to anything else, how much I've worked for her and how hard I work to keep her.

And what software?

I spend way too much time in Chrome, writing emails. I also use email for most of my writing and note taking, since it's more reliable and cross-platform than anything else.

For webVR development I mostly use Firefox Nightly, sometimes Chromium if I need the better debugger. I mostly program in Sublime, and use SourceTree to help deal with the horror that is git.

For video editing, mostly Adobe Premiere, unless it's a very simple job and also I'm working on the MacBook, in which case I'll use Final Cut Pro just because the export time is a little faster. I sometimes need to throw stuff into After Effects or Photoshop.

For sound production, I love Audacity. I think Audacity is the only piece of software I actually like, rather than merely tolerate. Trying to deal with audio production software, and VSTs in particular, is a horrible experience. Audacity just lets me do everything by hand without a fuss.

VLC media player for playing sound and flat video. For spherical stuff, besides our own eleVR player, we use Kolor Eyes and the Ricoh Theta player, and VR Player for Android. Sometimes all four at once, plus a long list of other things less often. Ask me again in six months and I guarantee it'll all have changed.

I regularly spend time with my eyes on Maya, Blender, Unity, and VideoStitch, though usually it's someone on my team who is actually the user of those programs while I just poke and comment, or stare blankly at the interface on my computer for a bit before deciding doing it by hand in JavaScript would be easier.

I use, quite often, whatever built-in program the MacBook has for taking screenshots. I take a lot of screenshots, carefully composed and cropped, of our video and VR work, mostly for tweets and blogposts. I spend a lot of time in WordPress writing tech posts.

For collaborating: Google Hangouts, Gchat, Google Docs, Dropbox, ShareLaTeX + Sandstorm.

That's some percentage of hardware and software, but then there's that weird mix of hardware+software+something else which is the human collaborator. I would not be able to do what I do without my many collaborators, especially Emily Eifler and Andrea Hawksley. If you wanted to know how many humans were essential to my work on a regular basis, the list would be longer than the lists of hardware and software.

What would be your dream setup?

That's kind of the point of what I do. My small VR research group is part of the Communications Design Group, cofounded by Alan Kay on the model of Xerox PARC. By which I mean to say, we intend to invent the dream setups of 30 years from now. I don't know what that is yet, though.

We buy what we can buy and create what we can't buy, then actually use it to communicate and self-express as artists, see how well the dream compares to reality and improve from there. When VR becomes ubiquitous we want it to happen right, in a way that is open, raises quality of life, and amplifies human powers of communication and self-expression, rather than being isolating and profit-driven.

Hoping to get a Vive in our office before too long, and all the other VR headsets with prototypes coming out soon. HoloLens, Magic Leap, all that. We want to get a full motion capture setup like one of our collaborators across the country has, so that we can collaborate on VR in VR, which we'll do if we can get the funding. None of these are dream setups, they're just the tools we need to start figuring out what we should be dreaming of.

For music, I've already got the dream setup that is Béla. Music has things figured out. Maybe years from now I'll start lusting after a Bösendorfer imperial grand because oh those extra keys, but it's hard to imagine any instrument more beautiful than Béla right now. I want a really good recording setup surrounding my piano, including better mics and a ton of acoustical work on my apartment that I don't want to invest in if I'm not going to live here forever. For a B. imperial grand I'd probably need to build a concert hall onto the side of my house, which means I'd need to get a house, or maybe I can just live in a concert hall?

I want a good violin and a hot tub. Right now I'm using a standing desk, but I think a hot tub desk would be ideal. If I live in a concert hall, I'll have to make sure the humidity from the hot tub desk is properly controlled so as not to upset the piano. There are many things to consider.

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