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 Jordan B. L. Smith

Jordan B. L. Smith

Researcher, music information retrieval

Posted in audio, mac, researcher

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a researcher in the field of Music Information Retrieval, which is basically AI for music. Speaking broadly, we want to create systems that can understand music the way humans do.

My research deals with detecting and modeling repetitions in music. It's long been a very abstract problem to work on, but I've helped create some fun applications: most recently, I made Unmixer, which will extract loops from whatever song you upload. The CrossSong puzzle was another fun app, and relates to an important hobby of mine: word puzzles, especially cryptic crosswords.

What hardware do you use?

  • MacBook Pro laptop (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013 model). The battery went kaput after four and a half years, and lasted 1412 charge cycles. Since the machine had never felt slow, I paid a few hundred to replace the battery.
  • Nexus 5X phone. It's crashed on me twice, but both times under a very generous EU warranty, so I can't complain. Both times, it was almost eerie how quickly I could fill a brand-new phone with my apps, presets, search history, etc. But I learned to stop worrying and love the self-surveillance capabilities of my phone.
  • Over-ear wireless headphones. I won't say which brand because it's just a cheap pair I found on Amazon, and the spelling of the company differs between the website, the receipt and the packaging, so it's some kind of fake company, But dancing in wireless headphones is a real joy.
  • A couple Western Digital My Passport external hard drives. Everything has to be backed up twice in my world. This is a tenet I held even before my laptop crashed catastrophically a few months before my dissertation was due and I had to buy a new one. Hardware dies, sometimes unexpectedly, but information doesn't have to!

And what software?

Let's start with to-dos. I am always interested to know how other people do theirs, but I always revert back to a simple Google Doc titled "To Do" that I can rewrite and restructure ad hoc. Nothing could be more flexible or simple, and it keeps a version history, satisfying me urge to Save Everything. It doesn't have "checkboxes", but I don't write to-do lists for the frisson of crossing out items. I write them to remind myself of my goals and obligations, and to split up daunting projects into bite-size tasks. And, when my motivation is lagging, my to-do list gets filled with regular-life things (do the laundry, go to the gym, send birthday email) to remind myself to disconnect from my research-focused to-do list and do some life stuff.

So yes, I use Google Docs for my to-do lists and any collaborative writing. Moving swiftly onward:

  • Chrome for browsing.
  • Keynote for presentations, posters, or quick, simple design projects.
  • BibDesk for managing citations.
  • Textmate for writing code. (And, increasingly, text! Writing in Markdown is very comfortable.)
  • Python 3 for coding, and most of my coding involves librosa.
  • Terminal for testing said code.
  • iTunes - although, increasingly, I just listen to YouTube (with ads blocked). It's a great way to discover new music, and while working I find it preferable to put on music that I consider mediocre: good enough to fill the air without annoying me; not so good that I feel motivated to look up the song and save it for later. (That is, and for both reasons: music that isn't in my library.) Also, in incognito mode, I can dive deep into a brand-new (to me) genre of music and make some wild discoveries without the risk that YouTube will radically revise its taste profile of me.
  • GitHub for my website, which uses Jekyll.
  • DropBox, 50% for keeping a cloud copy of my most recent work, and 50% to share large files with other people via download links. (That way my email account doesn't get cluttered with attachments!)

These two command line tools aren't needed on a daily basis but they do some very heavy lifting from time to time:

  • FFmpeg for stripping audio from video, or adding it, or creating gifs out of image sequences.
  • ImageMagick for manipulating images.

Finally, for writing cryptic crossword clues, I rely heavily on:

I post the puzzles on a WordPress blog.

What would be your dream setup?

I pretty much had my dream setup working in Japan at AIST with Prof. Masataka Goto:

  • Mac desktop with screen much larger than my laptop.
  • A Magic Mouse.
  • Any keyboard.
  • Setup exists at work, not in my home.
  • In earshot of colleagues.
  • Cafe or convenience store a short walk away.