What I Use: Luke Bennett's Favourite Gear And Productivity Tips

Last week we called for readers to tell us about their setups, and Luke was one of the first to respond. Here's how he makes the most out of life in his largely-Mac universe, how he keeps bookmarklets organised, and why his slow, ancient Nokia phone is still a useful productivity tool.

Desktop

I mainly use an 2009 model 20" iMac running Snow Leopard. It's my first Mac (technically second as I had it replaced under warranty) and I'll never go back to a Windows PC if I can help it!

My girlfriend owns an Acer Aspire 5720 running Windows 7, but we only ever use it when we're watching TV and can't be bothered to go upstairs to Google something ;-) I was considering turning it into an XBMC laptop, but I already have Connect360 installed on my Mac, and it does everything I need it to.

Accessories

I have some Logitech X-230 speakers, and while they aren't audiophile quality, for the money they sound very decent. I also have a pair of Sennheiser HD 215s for more serious listening.

Apart from that I have a Samsung "Story" 2TB eternal HDD to store all my movies and TV shows, an Apple iPod Classic (80GB) and I have recently bought a Moleskine notebook in an attempt to stop procrastinating while trying to implement some sort of GTD system.

Phone

Currently I have a Nokia E63, and while I have never been a fan of Nokia or Symbian, I does the job, has a full QWERTY keyboard and has a 3.5mm jack for when I don't have my iPod handy. It helps prevent me from my terrible procrastinating ways as well, as there are no games installed on it, and the web browser is unbearably slow.

Media equipment

When my daughter was born, I decided that I needed to buy a reasonable camera, so I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS12. It's a decent camera, but doesn't see much use as I rarely remember to take it with me anywhere. Fortunately my partner's iPhone 4 has a decent camera, so most of our snapshots are taken on that.

Software

Like Lifehacker writer Adam Dachis, I have a very tidy minimalist desktop (I even use the same icons and wallpaper). All my most used apps are in the dock. I was going to use folders in the way Adam suggested here but I mainly use Alfred to launch my apps, so it makes more sense to have only the frequently used apps in the dock and use Alfred for everything else.

Here are the apps I use every day on my Mac:

  • Alfred (as previously mentioned)
  • Google Chrome: simple interface, fast and does everything I want it to do.
  • 1Password: I prefer 1Password to LastPass, but I am considering going back to LastPass purely because it stores passwords in the cloud as opposed to as a file in my Dropbox (which can be a pain when I'm using someone else's computer).
  • Dropbox: I keep my Documents folder saved here, as well as a few important files. It's a very useful app, and I don't utilise it nearly enough.
  • Reeder: Beautifully designed RSS reader that syncs with my Google Reader account. Faster performance and better layout than Google Reader makes it my go-to RSS reader.
  • Automatic: Just bought this great little app, runs in the background at scheduled intervals to check for new torrents.
  • Transmission: Probably the best torrent downloading app available for Mac. Lightweight yet surprisingly feature rich, and when bundled with Automatic it's an unbeatable combo.
  • VLC: Plays anything I throw at it. Quicktime with Perian is almost as good (and looks a lot prettier), but VLC is a little lighter on resources so it gets the tick of approval from me.
  • Connect360: I used this handy little utility to stream media to my XBox 360 (to play on my 50" plasma), works brilliantly.
  • NTFS-3G & MacFuse: For reading and writing to my external HDD. I kept it formatted to NTFS so that it remains Windows compatible should I need to use it on my laptop.
  • Handbrake: I mainly use this to rip my DVDs to MP4 but occasionally I'll use it to transcode video files that don't play nice with other apps.
  • Toast Titanium: I purchased this app as part of a bundle and only use it for one thing: burning AVI or MP4 files to DVD for playback on DVD players that are not DivX compatible. Works a treat!

And in Windows when I encounter it:

  • CCleaner: short for Crap Cleaner, and does exactly that.
  • Auslogic Disk Defrag: best free disc defrag app available IMHO.
  • Soluto: great for controlling what apps start when you boot your PC, and noob-friendly as opposed to some of the alternatives.
  • uTorrent: If the Mac version was this feature rich and configurable, I'd be using it instead of Transmission.
  • 7zip: Simple utility for zipping and unzipping compressed files.
  • Revo Uninstaller: Does a much better job of cleaning up after uninstalling an app than most built-in uninstallers, and creates a restore point before editing the registry, so it's fairly safe to use.
  • Picasa: I tend to roll with iPhoto on my Mac, mainly because it has a much cleaner interface, but on Windows Picasa in my first choice photo organiser.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials: Probably the best antivirus app on the market, and totally free, what more could you ask for?
  • Nitro PDF Reader: I hate, hate, hate Adobe Reader, mainly since it's a bit of a resource hog and requires updating every five minutes. Nitro PDF has a nice interface, and is surprisingly feature-rich for a free PDF viewer.

Web apps and browser add-ons

As I said earlier, Chrome is my go to browser, I have the Firefox 4 beta installed and still occasionally use Safari, but I find Chrome does everything the other two browsers do, and usually better. The extensions I use mainly are:

  • LastPass/1Password: Easy access to all my passwords, generates secure passwords, and fills in online forms quickly and easily.
  • iReader: Mimics Safari's Reader feature, for stripping down articles to easily readable text, definitely my most used add-on after LastPass/1Password.
  • Xmarks: For keeping my bookmarks synced across different browsers and computers.
  • Gmail Checker and Google Reader Notifier: Easy access to email and RSS.

As for web apps, I use:

  • Pretty much the whole Google suite, mainly Google Reader.
  • Springpad: I use this to keep a wish-list of interesting products, save recipes and clip webpages.
  • Remember the Milk: Mainly I use this to schedule household chores, so I know what day to put the bins out without the stress. I tried to use it as a full-on GTD system, but whenever I'm at a computer I tend to find "better" things to do with my time.
  • Google Maps: I find Google Maps to be most useful for finding phone number and store hours, but obviously I also use it for maps and directions as well.

Tips and tricks

I've learnt a lot reading Lifehacker over the years, but these are a couple that stick out in my mind:

And here's one of my own: To save space on Chrome's bookmarks bar (or your browser of choice) I have a folder named "Applets" where I save all my bookmarklets (Share on Facebook, Send with Gmail, Send to Instapaper, Send to Twitter, Send to Springpad, Send to Remember the Milk and Shorten with bit.ly). The folder is called "Applets" instead of "Bookmarklets" as all my bookmarks are in alphabetical order, and I want this folder to be the first on the left for easy access.

Thanks Luke! Want to tell us about your own setup and why it works? Send us the details by email to [email protected]


Comments

    1Password Anywhere http://help.agile.ws/1Password3/1passwordanywhere.html allows you to get around the issue of not being able to access your passwords from someone else's machine.

    I have my 1Password keychain in the Public folder of my Dropbox and then use a URL shortener with a custom alias for easy access to the long & ugly dropbox link. E.g. bit.ly/1Pass

      Thanks Matt, I had heard about 1Password Anywhere but for some reason overlooked it.
      Cheers.

        No worries Luke, glad to help! :)

    > had it replaced under warranty

    http://static.funnyjunk.com/pictures/mac_vs_pc_webcam_is_broken_769833.jpg

    Hiya! Just a quick post to point out I'd point out that you may get better sound out of the X-230 speakers if the sub woofer was placed on the floor.

      thats a good point, and puting a heavy weight on top helps too (this works for any type of cheap "boxed" speaker)

      Thanks for the tip, is this to minimise vibration or because of better speaker placement?
      You cant really see it in the photo, but I have a foam mouse-pad underneath it to stop the vibration which works quite well, but if your recommending I move it for another reason I'll give it a crack.

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