All this week, Lifehacker’s editors will be sharing the hardware, software, and tips and tricks they use to do their jobs here. I’m bringing you way too computers, frustration-saving tips and some cool audio/video gear.
Desktops & Laptops
We’re not going to get into the ridiculous number of computers I have collected and instead take a look at the four I actively use every day. Yes, it’s kind of weird and seems excessive but it works very well for me. Rather than address each computer individually, I’ve broken this up into the three workspaces.
Couch Command Central
This is where most of the daily magic happens. I’m all about the latest MacBook Air, which is what I primarily use for posting and doing most everything that doesn’t require a super fast processor. Beside the MacBook Air is whatever the cheapest iMac was in late 2009. By day it’s where I offload more processor-intensive stuff I don’t want to force upon my laptop and a place to load up RSS, articles and especially videos. By night it’s my media centre, which is hooked up to an old Optoma 720p projector. On a particular busy day, this setup is vital. For example, yesterday, we covered Google’s Android event which fell during my posting schedule. I wrote posts on my laptop while editing and uploading a recording of the live stream (see here and here). How do you write six posts in two hours and edit video at the same time? With two computers. So it’s really not that crazy!
The Media Workstation
I do a few things that require a fast processor: editing/rendering 1080p video, creating motion graphics, and making music with sampled instruments. This is where the 27-inch Core i5 iMac comes in. I consider it more of a music workstation than anything else since I can generally edit most video (like screencasts and quick clips we add to posts) on my laptop just fine. Nonetheless, this thing renders twice as fast and it saves my butt whenever we’re in a time crunch. It’s mainly where I go to make my own music (and sometimes music for our Lifehacker videos). What you can’t see from the photo is the big wall of storage, which also hosts the weighted keyboard piano (Yamaha P85). I use Samson 65a speakers for clean, uncolored monitoring on the cheap, an AKG 535L mic for vocal recordings, and an Apogee Duet to connect both to the iMac. All of my audio equipment is over three years old so those exact models may not be in production anymore, but they’ve always worked so well I’ve never had any need to replace them. With the exception of the iMac, I’ve never really had to need to upgrade much in this setup. The only thing I’d really like is to put an SSD in the iMac, but that’s an expense that can wait for now.
The Windows Testing Booth
While I’m primarily a Mac user, I do like Windows 7 and need it for testing from time to time. I used to run Windows on an old machine Adam Pash didn’t need anymore, but I recently installed XBMC on my second generation Apple TV and that freed up my Acer Aspire Revo (previously the XBMC nettop). The Revo draws much less power so now it runs Windows. It’s also given me a chance to use a bunch of silly peripherals I had lying around, like a 802.11n wireless adaptor, some crappy speakers, and an awful webcam I got on Woot for $US8. Possibly the oldest piece of tech that I own is on this desk (unless you count my old Mac OS 7 software): a seven-year-old DELL 20-inch UltraSharp monitor. It’s a great monitor and I accidentally scratched the screen the day I got it. Whoops.
My accessories live on a Grid-It, which is my favourite organisation tool. I keep a 500GB portable hard drive, a couple of flash drives, pens, a small screwdriver (this comes in handy far more than you might think), a Zoom H1 portable recorder, cables and pens. These all go in an Incase Campus Backpack, which is super-slim, lightweight and still holds a lot of stuff without getting weighed down. I change backpacks about every six months, though, so this probably won’t be my bag come May. That said, I’ve been getting Incase bags a lot more lately because they make some great backpacks.[imgclear]
Phones, Tablets, and Other Mobile Devices
My laptop is my mobile device. For me, for the most part, my phone is my phone and my tablet is useless. Currently I use an iPhone 4. I like it. It’s nice. It has the obvious Apple problems, but I don’t expect my phone to do everything I could possibly imagine. My iPad, on the other hand, I do not like very much. I’ve had it since day one and I still can’t figure out what the point of it is. My phone does pretty much everything just as well but also fits in my pocket. My iPad has a really great battery and a few games I enjoy, but that’s about it. Any media I can play on my iPad I’d rather play on a computer. When it comes to games — which I don’t play often — I prefer a gamepad of some kind and games that are a bit more complex than what you find on iOS. Still, it’s very cool and I bought it so I’m determined to figure out something it’s good for (although currently I’m wishing it was an Android 3.0 tablet). The only mobile device that I really like to have is my iPhone. Everything else is optional (except maybe this headset).
When we do bigger video production — some of which you’ve seen and some of which you’ll be seeing in the near future — we break out the higher-end equipment. Pretty much all the big videos are shot with my Canon 5D MK II. I like to use old manual Nikon lenses using a Nikon F-mount adaptor, but I do have a few Canon lenses as well. For quick videos (and many photos for posts), I use a Sony a NEX-5. The Zoom H4N generally handles sound (when we need especially good sound) and sometimes employ a few Sennheiser lavalier mics as well. Of course there are a bunch of other things we use for production purposes (like lighting equipment, for example), but that would take us a little too far off-topic for this kind of post.
I keep a very simple, very tidy desktop thanks to my Dropbox organisation system, these icons, and this simple wallpaper. I run way too many apps, have way too many browser tabs open at a time, and you’re about to find out all about it.
Here are the apps I use every day on my Mac:
- Dropbox, obviously
- Transmit (although CyberDuck is an excellent free alternative)
- Twitter (the official Mac client)
- Apple Mail (yes, I still use a desktop mail client, leave me alone)
- Adium, also known as the best damn chat client on Mac OS X.
- Google Chrome, my main browser (more on this later)
- Notational Velocity, a wonderfully simple notes app that syncs with Simplenote
- Adobe Photoshop CS5, which still can’t be replaced by alternatives for a lot of what I do (though I can’t argue that PIxelmator isn’t a great alternative for most stuff)
- TextExpander, though I’ll dump it the moment I find another text expansion application that doesn’t suffer from its numerous issues with replacing the clipboard
- NetNewsWire for RSS feeds, though I’m hoping to replace it with Reeder once it’s working properly
- VLC, since it never fails to play any video file
- Textmate, for when I need to write code (which I don’t use every day but it’s worth mentioning anyhow)
- ScreenSharingMenulet, for easy screen sharing from the menubar
- Teleport, for controlling other computes with my laptop
While I’m not a heavy Windows user, there are a few apps I really like:
- Skype, which I hate on the Mac but somehow love on Windows
- ClipCube, for an endless clipboard history
- Sublime Text, which is basically the best Textmate alternative for Windows
- Digsby is my favourite Windows chat client, aside from all of those annoying ads you have to go through during installation
- RealVNC, for, uh, VNC
- ClipUpload for quick, easy uploading
Web Apps and Browser Add-ons
Chrome is my browser. I started off as a Safari user because it was fast and I liked the interface. Firefox appealed to me because of its extensibility, but it was always so slow so I never used it. Then Chrome came along and turned out to be the best of both worlds so there was really no decision to be made. I switched pretty much as soon as Chrome was officially released for the Mac. I keep Safari and Firefox around for testing and screencasting purposes, but I really never use them for real work. So here are my Chrome add-ons (many of which have Firefox equivalents):
- Amazon Wishlist, because it takes up less space as an icon than a bookmarklet in my bookmarks bar
- Dropbox, because I love Dropbox and not because I actually use this extension
- Bit.ly URL Shortener, because it’s faster than going to bit.ly
- LastPass, because you have no idea what you’re missing/insane if you’re not using it
- TabCloud, because I’m a tab glutton
- Create Link, for all its time saving benefits when creating links
- Google Voice which I shouldn’t need to explain
- SabConnect++, because…well, you’re all going to yell at me if I explain this one
I have a lot of these and use very few of them. Here’s the short list:
- The built-in Clock app, which I still say is the best app on the iPhone
- Captio, because it makes it much easier to email screenshots to myself for app reviews
- Simplenote, because it’s the best notes app for iOS and it’s free
- Wunderlist for to-dos
- Dropbox, for those times when I don’t get around to syncing something I want on my phone
- TV Forecast, which reminds me what to download
- myNZB, which facilitates downloading (of what, we may never know!)
- Air Video, because Apple video format support sucks
- Amazon, because I buy most of my stuff from Amazon
- DSLR Remote, because it’s perhaps the most amazing iOS app ever made (when it works)
- Weet, for the rare occasion when I check Twitter from my phone
TIPS & TRICKS CLOSEST TO MY HEART
Of all the tips on Lifehacker, the one I use all the time is the one that taught me how to tie my shoes properly. I’ve used this tip as an example when pitching ideas for various things and I love annoying people by telling them they don’t know how to tie their shoes correctly. It really does work much better than any other shoe-tying method I’ve used in the past.[imgclear]
When this was posted on Monday, Adam Pash instituted a slave labour workshop in which I was the sole employee and the sole product was DIY car mounts as described in this post. I’ve been using mine for the past few days now and it works great!
I have some pretty stubborn devices that do not want to let go of their used up batteries. Now I always keep a spare magnet available on the refrigerator to help me out when that happens. Big, big help.