44 • Devine Lu Linvega • Making Your Own Tools | Future of Coding

We live in a world that is gradually becoming more closed off, more controlled, more regional. Our relationship with technology is now primarily one of consumption, buying new hardware on a regular cycle, using software conceptualized to meet a market need and fulfill promises made to venture capitalists. It’s common to hear people talk about both computing hardware and software as though they were appliances, not meant to be user-serviced, not meant to be modified. The tools we use are being designed for the 80% who live in a city, use grid electricity, want to keep up with the industry, and have an unacknowledged learned helplessness about the limitations of their tools.

Devine Lu Linvega and his partner Rekka live on a sailboat. He makes art, music, software, and other cultural artifacts. When Photoshop’s DRM required that he maintain a connection to the internet, he wrote his own creative suite. When his MacBook died in the middle of the ocean, he switched to Linux with hardware he could service. His electricity comes from solar panels, and every joule counts — so that’s out with Chrome and Electron and in with Scheme, C, assembly, and maybe someday Forth.

I wanted to interview Devine with a main focus on just one of the dozens of tools he’s created over the past few years — Orca, a spatial programming environment for generating synchronized realtime events. It’s ostensibly a tool for music, but has been applied to all sorts of other disciplines in wildly creative ways. Devine and I ended up talking for over three hours, and after editing out everything superfluous there was still too much matter for just one episode. So we’re going to take this in two pieces. Today, you’ll hear the bits of our conversation that covered everything other than Orca — Devine’s philosophy, the stories of his other tools, the ways in which boat life have forced certain technology choices on him. On the next episode we’ll have the rest — a deep dive into Orca, covering the thinking and story behind the design of the tool, the community that has picked it up and run with it in all sorts of wild directions, and lots of little nooks and crannies in the space around this fascinating project.

My hope is that the topics discussed today will let you see from Devine’s perspective, so that when we look at Orca in detail you can appreciate exactly why it is the way it is, and take away valuable lessons for your own projects.

Given that his most recent explorations have been making art and programming tools that run on the NES, the best quote of the show has to be: “I never want to have a stronger computer than the one I have today.”