This week we're sharing the hardware, software, tips and tricks, that make keep our blogging wheels spinning. I'm next up with a tour of my favourite hardware, must-have accessories and apps to share.
Desktops & Laptops: Click for a closer view:
I work from a variety of computers throughout the week. This is not because I'm a techno-fetishist but simply because the nature of blogging is such that you have to work long hours from wherever you can work. Every gadget I have is set up in some way to blog whether it's for full-scale work or just for skimming feeds to keep current.
- DIY Desktop: My primary machine is a AMD quadcore system with 8GB of RAM. Everyday I ask myself "Why didn't you switch to a 64-bit OS and max our the RAM earlier?". I can't imagine life without the ability to keep three web browsers and dozens upon dozens of tabs open without any system slowdown at all.
ASUS Netbook: I love my netbook. The very things that other people complain about (small screen, limited power, etc) are the things that help me to focus. I'm never as focused as I am when I'm working on it because it simply doesn't have the horse power and screen space to allow for a lot of distraction. It's about as close to working on a typewriter as it comes.
- Logitech Trackman: I love this mouse. I love it so much that if they announced they weren't going to make anymore I'd buy 10. I bought my first one over 15 years ago and it's still going strong (and currently connected to a test machine in my workshop). There isn't anything a trackball doesn't make better from scoring awesome FPS head shots to carefully editing photos.
- ASUS Monitors: While I noted above that I enjoy the focus the netbook provides I also really enjoy spreading out my work over three monitors. It's awesome. I love writing in the centre monitor, reading my source material on the right, and having my IM, email and calendar open on the left. The only bad thing I can say about having this much screen real estate is that you need to keep an iron grip on your focus or you'll find yourself neck deep in LOL Cats and Reddit comments.
Phones, Tablets and Other Mobile Devices
HTC Hero: I had a Windows mobile phone for a long time. I have no idea why I held onto Windows mobile for 3+ years. It was crap by comparison. I love my Android phone. I check my email on it, read my feeds for blogging ideas, keep an eye on trending social media topics, and (unlike my previous two Windows Mobile phones) stuff actually works the way I want it to.
- Apple iPad: The iPad is awesome. People can rip on it all they want, but that doesn't make it any less awesome. It's lightweight, sleek, has an amazing touch screen, and it's fun to use. I'll fully admit to using it mostly for goofing off although I do really enjoy testing apps on it and using slick newsreaders like Flipboard and Pulse.
- Canon PowerShot SD1400: I originally bought it for my wife because she was afraid of wrecking one of my DSLRs and she wanted an simple pocket camera. It's a great little camera and I use the HD movie function for recording simple clips. I can't get over how much camera you get for the price.
Click for larger view:
My desktop spreads out far and wide over 4800 pixels. After years of a single monitor and a few years with dual monitors, I love having three. As I mentioned above the most common setup for me is communication tools on the left, active work in the centre, and supplementary stuff like Google Reader and tracking widgets on the right.
Main Browser: Chrome I love Chrome. It's fast, it syncs easily across computers, and in the browser feature war it's been in the lead for some time. If you scrutinise my screenshot above you'll notice that I do have Firefox open on the task bar. I have a portable copy of Firefox and an installed copy of Firefox: the installed copy is my wife's browser on my machine (for those times she wants to walk up and use it without disturbing all the apps and browser windows I have open) and the portable copy is my legacy install for a handful of extensions like CoLT that I use for certain posts at Lifehacker and for which there are no equivalents in Chrome.
- LastPass: Although I've always used strong passwords and a different password on every site I've recently gotten extra serious about password security. I installed LastPass and I updated all my passwords to beefier versions of their prior selves or outright replaced them with 10+ long string of alphanumeric characters; you should do the same.
- After the Deadline: When you're pounding out posts around the clock it's nice to have some robotic eyes to give a quick scan and remind you that you missed a hyphen.
TabRocket: I work a lot in virtual machines and it helps to be able to easily kick tabs between them. TabRocket is a great little Chrome extension that makes it easy to send tabs from one install of Chrome to another (even when that other install is tucked inside a virtual machine on the desktop you're using).
- ChromoDoro: Recently I've been using Focus Booster after it was recommended to me by our own Adam Pash, but for the longest time I used ChromoDoro for my Pomodoro Technique needs. I really love timers.
- Gmail/Google Calendar/Google Notebook: I like having stuff in one place and Google's mighty reach allows me to do that. I use Gmail for my personal email, for my work at Lifehacker and How-To Geek, and I keep track of everything in Google Notebooks. Recently I've been running into some limitations with the Google Notebook (it's no longer being actively developed) which may prompt me to give Evernote and Springpad a serious look but for now I'm pretty happy using it as a virtual scratch pad.
- Google Reader: I put this one as a separate entry because of the sheer amount of time I spend with it. I've logged so many hours with Google Reader that we're common law married in 43 US states. I have yet to find a program or web app that handles the massive pile of RSS feeds I have to filter through every day with such efficiency.
- Dropbox: I treat Dropbox largely like a stash of cash and pistol in a bus station locker. Some people really go all out using it for everything, I store my portable apps there in case of emergency. With the copy of Chrome portable, Firefox portable and other miscellaneous apps I could keep on blogging anywhere I could scrape up some computer time. Aside from my blogging go-bag, I also put files here (like my gradebook and lesson plans) that I want to be able to access away from home.
- PhraseExpress: PhraseExpress is the most powerful text replacement tool I've used. I'm certain I'm only using 2 per cent of its abilities. According to it, I've saved tens of thousands of key strokes with all the macros I've programmed for helping out in my blogging adventures.
- Photoshop: I've been playing with Photoshop since the days of dialup and turning to it is second nature. Nearly every Hive Five header image passes through my copy at some point.
- Windows Live Writer: We have a robust content management system but at the behest of the How-To Geek some time last year I started writing my longer posts in Windows Live Writer. It's a comfortable blogging tool which is more than I can say for anything else out there.
I'm a huge fan of my Android phone and also quite a fan of my iPad (although I'll be the first to admit that the iPad is mostly for fun and the ooh ‘n ahh factor and I use it for so little productive tasks that I'm going to leave it off my Mobile Apps list altogether).
- SwiFTP: I hate messing with mounting and dismounting the internal storage on my phone. I use SwiFTP so I can keep files accessible to the system while still uploading and changing them.
- Wireless Tether: I originally rooted my phone just to be able to take screen shots but quickly discovered that I could also turn it into a wireless hot spot. During power outages last year I did all my blogging with my netbook and a my phone as my Wi-Fi source.
- Full Screen Caller ID: You might be asking yourself how I would consider full screen caller ID a productivity tool. Being able to easily identify calls and SMS messages at a distance (significantly more so than the tiny little thumbnail that's the Android default) saves me tons of time. The picture is so big and clear that I can ID the call all the way in the other room.
TIPS & TRICKS CLOSEST TO MY HEART
It was tough to pick a few things for this section. I've written thousands of articles for Lifehacker at this point: hundreds of software reviews, hundreds of mobile app tests, baked bread, busted out the Dremel tool, rooted phones, soldered and otherwise voided warranties. I've incorporated so many of those things into my life it's almost impossible to list them.
That said, here are three things that I use every day and find thoroughly useful:
- Door Stopper Monitor Riser: A wood plank, some door stoppers, and BAM, nearly instant and cheap monitor stand. In my case the plank is 48 inches long and holds up not only the arc of my three monitors but the charging stands for my DS, iPod and HTC Hero as well as providing a little 3-inch high nook to hide away my speakers, label maker, stapler and Wacom tablet. I made a smaller version for my daughter's computer desk, and she slides her mouse and keyboard under it when she wants to draw.
- Standing Desks: After more back pain than I cared to deal with, I switched my desk over to a standing desk. Let me tell you, any amount of foot pain from standing all day is so much better than back pain; also, a good mat and proper standing posture keeps the foot pain away/ Right now it's just my old desk surface lifted up by milk crates. I'm glad I didn't go all out rebuilding it as a standing desk because I recently scored a serviceable treadmill off the internet for $US50. Treadputer here I come!
- Build a Silent, Standalone XBMC Media Center: I freaking love XBMC. It's on every floor of my house, on my computers, and soon to be on my iPad. I've written tons of guides to XBMC over the years including: The Ultimate Start to Finish Guide to Your XBMC Center and How to synchronise Your XBMC Media centre Between Every Room in the House. Everyone who visits my house is amazed by XBMC. The newbies are just amazed by the whole concept of a whole house media system that I didn't pay $US10,000 for and the in-the-know are amazed by how much customisation and tweaking I've done with it.
Questions? Comments? Burning desire to be the first one to make an unoriginal and asinine comment about iPads? You know where to find the comments.