Every week, a new and interesting human being tackles our decidedly geeky take on the Proustian Q&A. This is the Engadget Questionnaire.
In our latest round of gadget-related queries, Astrophysicist and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Principle Scientist Amy Mainzer discusses the fully-body typing experience and planetary preservation. Join us after the jump for her responses to our full barrage of questions.
What gadget do you depend on most?
My laptop is my brain and my memory. It's my means of interfacing with the much more powerful computers I use for astronomical data analysis. And of course, it's a powerful telecommunications station, so now it's also my eyes and ears.
Which do you look back upon most fondly?
My Apple //e computer. A good fraction of my childhood was taken up with playing games, coding simple programs and writing papers on it. It even taught me to type when I was 9! My experience with this computer at an early age was a critical turning point that has rippled through my career ever after. By playing some of the earliest text adventure games, I fell in love with computers, and my imagination soared to faraway places. Learning to type so young set me up for better jobs as a secretary than I would have otherwise gotten, allowing me to earn badly needed money for college. And of course, my early experiences made computers and coding much more comfortable than they otherwise would have been.
Which company does the most to push the industry?
I've used many different computers and operating systems over the years, and they're all pretty good. Apple has been a consistent force for change, and right now I'm pretty solidly attached to their products.
What is your operating system of choice?
I've been a Mac person for a while. As an astrophysicist, having the Unix core underlying the OS is key, since virtually all of our software is Unix-based in some sense. It's pretty widely used in the field, so that makes it convenient for collaborations.
What are your favorite gadget names?
Anything that combines bad puns with Star Trek.
What are your least favorite?
Anything that takes itself too seriously.
Which app do you depend on most?
The lightsaber app! Great for making points in meetings.
"The lightsaber app! Great for making points in meetings."
What traits do you most deplore in a smartphone?
Aargh, so hard to tyre with autocross! Tiny buttons combined with technical jargon makes for some interesting emails. Most of my friends have "iPhone names" based on the most common mistakes I make typing.
Which do you most admire?
I admire the ease with which written, audio and visual communications have been integrated into one terrifying whole! It's now possible to access the world's entire library of scientific journals, check the weather, see your mom and read a book with one device. Thinking back to how tough it was to come by up-to-date scientific information as a child growing up in Ohio, I'm astonished at how readily available knowledge has become -- provided you have access to the technology.
What is your idea of the perfect device?
The one thing I would really love to have is a laptop with a more convenient and powerful physical interface. Having to hunch over a tiny keyboard and stare at a smallish screen all day can be pretty painful physically. I'd love to see some bright person figure out a way to code using an interface like the Kinect - it would be so much fun to be able to wave your arms or jump up and down to type! I know there'll be a reliable way to do this soon. Programming and scientific data analysis is awfully sedentary, so it would be great if we could find a way to make it more physically active. If there are any folks out there working on such a system, I'll be your beta tester.
What is your earliest gadget memory?
One of my earliest and favorite memories is dancing to Sesame Street songs on a kiddie record player.
What technological advancement do you most admire?
The transporter. Seriously, I can't wait for that.
Which do you most despise?
It's painful to see technology used for mass destruction of the diversity of life on Earth, like the explosives that are used for fishing on coral reefs. I love the crazy colors and mind-boggling diversity of the oceans, so when I first saw the effects of dynamite on this gorgeous, utterly unique environment, it was devastating. As an astrophysicist, I can tell you firsthand that there really is no place like home that we know of, so to see technology used to trash the place is truly distressing. We may know of lots of other planets out there, but we cannot get to them: here we are, and here we will stay for the foreseeable future. As a spacecraft builder, I can say with confidence that the Star Trek ideal of easy human interplanetary travel is not going to happen anytime soon. We must take care of our home.
What fault are you most tolerant of in a gadget?
Actually, I don't mind the autocorrect errors - as long as they're funny!
Which are you most intolerant of?
When has your smartphone been of the most help?
For any sort of navigation in a new city, the smartphone is incredible.
What device do you covet most?
I am really ready for that Kinect-style interface to the laptop. It would be so cool to code using Fruit Ninja-style moves!
If you could change one thing about your phone what would it be?
Create an application that lets you jump 10 seconds back in time (for cleaning up those pesky autocorrect typos, of course).
What does being connected mean to you?
Being connected means that work has become much more tightly integrated with the rest of life. This has plusses and minuses, of course! But the ability to connect with family and friends is priceless.
When are you least likely to reply to an email?
No emails while roller skating!
When did you last disconnect?
You can do that?