Aurelia Moser is a developer, teacher, author and also a bit of a cartographer. She works at the Mozilla Science Lab with researchers to collaborate on open source projects, and is also a mentor at Girl Develop It.
The Mozilla Science Lab is a community of coders and scientists who work together to share their data and collaborate in the same open-source spirit you probably associate with Mozilla. Along with her teaching at SVA-DSI and Parsons, Aurelia is one of those people who seems to have 10 gigs at once but somehow stays organised with a system of colour-coding, text editors and IRC. Here’s how she works.
Location: Brooklyn, NYC
Current Gig: Mozilla Science Lab, Community Lead + Developer, Girl Develop It, Chapter Leader + Teacher, SVA-DSI + Parsons, Visiting Professor
One word that best describes how you work: Continuously, cartographically?
Current mobile device: iPhone 6 with a cracked screen
Current computer: MacBook Air (2015) with the camera covered
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today. How’d you end up at Mozilla?
My background is pretty colourful, academically and professionally. I went to grad school for art and media conservation, including resuscitating born-digital and new media art projects for persistent display and viewing by library and museum patrons. It was a pretty rad introduction to tech forensics, diagnosing code problems and working backwards to develop emulators and solutions for broken applications, defunct data storage formats and deprecated APIs.
I worked at some creative tech agencies and then applied to be an Open News Fellow with Mozilla and Ushahidi, an East-African tech company working to build software for crisis mapping at global scale powered by both feature and smart phone data. From there I got really geeky about maps and worked for Carto and some geospatial software startups before circling back to science and applying to work at Mozilla Science Lab, a part of the Mozilla Foundation and broader network that works to support scientists who want to open source their research (open data, open access publishing, open science practice). It feels fun and fulfilling and not totally tertiary to my initial education in science conservation; open science and open source provide some avenues to promote and preserve research findings… giving scientists some agency to share ideas and iterate on them faster, informed by feedback from a broader research community on the web.
What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?
- Sublime Text – Text editor of choice, with a custom colour theme that I change every few months.
- Mou – Side-by-side markdown preview app, where I take notes and store text docs.
- Firefox / Chrome / Safari – All the browsers for testing, sometimes for simultaneously running multiple accounts on the same platform.
- Colloquy – App for IRC, which we still use internally at Mozilla, though Slack/Gitter/MatterMost/Adium are pretty popular these days.
- Shifit – Love this app for setting up keyboard hotkeys for shifting windows and apps around your screen, useful for anyone who has a small screen and serious economy of space.
- LICEcap – Animated GIFs are an entire computational language for me and I use them to illustrate bugs, document pull request functionality, demonstrate programmatic concepts, and capture delightful everyday interactions. This app helps you do that for any screen; no accounting for the weird name of the app but the utility is just ace.
- Mail – I don’t like a lot of local mail clients but I use Apple’s Mail (and previously Thunderbird) for PGP encrypting communications.
- Alarm on iOS- Probably the thing I really can’t live without: My phone alarm. I set multiple alarms, with lots of tones to scare me into stimulation.
- Boomerang – A lovely app for scheduling email communications. I’m an inbox zero hero but I don’t like to impose my strange hours of operation on other people.
- I also install a “dark theme” on every application I can, so that I relax my eyes a bit. I don’t really like f.lux, or anything that federates colouring on my screen because it skews a lot of colour and design considerations, but I do think that taking a visual break from backlight is good.
What’s your workspace setup like? Coffee shop with laptop and headphones? Home office with a standing desk?
At Mozilla we have the blissful privilege of working remotely, so I work from home a lot. My twee apartment with a small desk in the living room is my typical work habitat. Mozilla also has a tiny co-working space in DUMBO, Brooklyn that I can bike to if I want slightly faster Wi-Fi. Headphones all day/always; I’m on a one pair per month diet, which is probably more a sad indictment of the poor quality of most headphone hardware than it is my over-usage of earbuds.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I tried the Pomodoro planning but sometimes find it adds unnecessary stress to my day. As a modification of that, I usually try to do anything that takes less than two minutes immediately, and I compete with myself in cute ways to try to maximise my productivity during those two-minute sprints. I also keep multiple browsers open, and thematically spread tasks between them, so if I need to focus on a task, I’ll shut down the browser with my email clients loaded to avoid distractions and notifications from email.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I really like Taskwarrior, mostly because I can customise and colour code it, and I’m big on colour-coding. It’s local to your terminal though, so best for private to-do lists, and the entry is manual so upkeep can be challenging.
GitHub project boards are awesome; I’m neurotic about organising my issues and tasks in GitHub so I often move my to-do lists to GitHub repos, and have a new repo with a task log for every job I have.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
Buying weird domains, laughing at inappropriate times, whistling and humming at the same time, snorting (corollary to laughing at inappropriate times).
But seriously, I’m obsessively over-organised and really good at colour-coding. I group and colour my phone apps, the clothes in my closet, my book shelves… there’s something eminently pleasant about ROYGBIV distributions, for me at least. It probably sounds fake, but I have a chromatic memory: I can easily recall things by associative colour, the location of things in my apartment, their function and utility… like a useless synesthesia or mnemonic.
What do you listen to while you work? Got a favourite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence?
I layer music with Coffitivity, often other people’s playlists on Spotify. I like the strange serendipity of finding people across the world who assemble a music collection that intrigues me, more than the algorithmically generated preference playlist that you can get by training Spotify or Pandora through thumb buttons. If I need to focus, it has to be classical or instrumental; but otherwise I typically lean on shoegaze, twee indie, French and Spanish rock music from the ’60s/’70s/’80s.
I loved Songza for their creative and highly specific playlist themes, Radiooooo for its spacetime tracks, Pandora for casual playlist generation. I only have a few playlists on Spotify; this is probably my favourite of those right now. I have a pretty strong emotional attachment to music, so if I listen to a track while doing a specific thing, that activity imprints on the music and it’s hard for me to listen to that same track casually. For example, pretty much anything on my running playlist is a “safe” track that is impossible for me to listen to without triggering a kind of heart jolt or mild panic attack.
What are you currently reading? Or what’s something you’d recommend?
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
When I want to unplug I do yoga, or sometimes ballet classes, or I take a bath. I’m a terrible meditator, though I’ve tried many times. My sleep schedule is laughably erratic so I can’t claim that I recharge much that way, though I am a fierce and violent dreamer; I feel strangely energised by the few lucid dreaming experiences I’ve had.
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
I would call myself a “low-level sleeper”; in more euphemistic terms, I might qualify as “more evolved”. I operate on about five hours of sleep a night though I really do try for more. I have little routines for sleeping; sometimes they include ASMR YouTube videos, hot tea, night yoga, melatonin gummy bears. I really love getting up before 8AM, and will privilege that over almost any late-night activity.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Lots of people interested in open science, new media and visualisation … too many to suggest.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“The time you spend is not your own.”
From Paul Ford’s 10 Timeframes, a really excellent graduation speech where he discusses how, as a creator or developer, you have an obligation to consider the time-suck implied in your applications and designs. You should think about how many hours you waste of another person’s life when they use your creations, because that waste, if sloppily structured, is so toxic to human progress and such a sad debt to build with humanity. The pragmatic programmer is one who respects other people’s time.
I’m really interested in time abstraction and research into how we process and comprehend the passage of time, our most frustrating non-renewable resource. I’ve proposed conference talks on timezones and have lost so many hours to programmatic time-related bugs.
So that line,
about being considerate of time, </slant_rhyme>
has always stuck with me.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
If you’re an early-career researcher, you should apply to our Mozilla Fellowship Program, open through May 14.
If you’d like to teach more women how to code, you should reach out and join our non-profit, Girl Develop It. I co-run the NYC chapter with a few friends but there are many local chapters across the US and probably in your local area if you’re US-domestic.
Feel free to tweet at me or reach out with any questions; I love making friends on the internet: @auremoser.
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