This week, Lifehacker's editors are sharing the hardware, software, tips and tricks they use to keep Lifehacker running every day. I'm finishing it all up with some custom hardware, an absurd amount of apps, and a bit of Linux love.
Desktops & Laptops
We Lifehackers are software geeks at heart, but I'll admit that I'm becoming a pretty big hardware geek too. These are the machines I've amassed over the past few years.
- Jotunn, my Hackintosh Desktop: I've been using Mac laptops since I started university in 2006, and I wanted something a bit more powerful, so I built this desktop this year. It's one of the best computer buying decisions I've ever made. I'd forgotten how versatile desktops are — I've got drives galore in this thing for testing hacks, a nice, overclocked i7 processor for decoding video, and two nice video cards because I'm slowly discovering how fun gaming is. Even better is the fact that I built it for a third the price of a comparable Mac Pro, and I get to say the word "Hackintosh" a lot. Like Adam, I used the tonymacx86 method to install OS X, though my hardware is slightly different.
- Steve, my MacBook Pro: This was my main computer before I built the Hackintosh. Nowadays, I mainly use it when I'm out of town and still writing stuff for Lifehacker, or when I'm testing stuff for an article that requires multiple computers. It's handy to have around.
- NoisyCricket, my Acer Aspire One Netbook: I'm a little in love with this thing. After using all those big honkin' laptops, the small size and weight of this thing makes me smile every time I pick it up. I mainly use this if I'm out at a coffee shop, or otherwise out and around town for a few hours. Right now, it's running Ubuntu Netbook Edition, which I love, Unity interface and all.
- Giles, my Custom Home Theatre PC: OK, it's not exactly a productivity tool, but I wanted to mention it because I went a decidedly different direction than Lifehacker's official XBMC box. I built this thing myself, installed Ubuntu with XBMC on top of it, and I used the extremely confusing LIRC to configure my remote control. As a result, this box is complicated, problem-ridden, and breaks pretty much every time I update something, but I wouldn't have done it any other way. Because of those choices, I can fully customise my remote, watch Blu-Ray discs in XBMC and play old-school video games all right from XBMC — all things that would have been impossible on a non-Linux or XBMC-standalone machine. I've put more work into this than any of my other computers, so I'm a little overly proud, but it was worth it.
I'm using the Logitech Performance MX mouse (formerly the Logitech Revolution MX), and like the other editors, I can attest to its awesomeness. It's probably my favourite accessory—wireless, buttons galore, and an awesome momentum-scrolling feature that's great for uber-long web pages (or music libraries). I'm also a fan of my Logitech Illuminated Keybaord, which is nice because I spend an absurd amount of time computing in the dark.
As far as my other accessories, nothing's that exciting or original. I've got a Logitech Pro 9000 webcam, a new Nikon D90 camera (which I love and has produced some awesome pictures), two Acer P235h montiors, and some great speakers and headphones for my 24/7 music listening.
I would, however, like to give a shout out to Other World Computing external drive enclosures. I've gone through a lot of external drives over the years, and they've caused me a lot of pain. OWC's drives and enclosures are a bit pricier than other drives, but they've never failed me, so I've given up deal hunting on external drives and become loyal to these. If you're unhappy with the external drives you've bought in the past, I can recommend these pretty highly.
I'm still rocking the original Motorola Droid, and I still love it (most of the time). Yes, it's a bit old and slow, but with a few tweaks, it'll run pretty smoothly, and you can even make up for its crappy camera. I love that its popularity birthed a large hacking community, and if we're being completely honest, I really like the look of the hardware. It's the Honda Element of smartphones: boxy, ugly, yet kind of charming at the same time.
I've got a bunch of old iPods and iPod touches, but nothing recent — I mainly just use them to test apps and listen to music in my bedroom, in the shower, in my car, and on airplanes (so as not to drain the battery on my phone when I'm travelling). I do have an iPad though, and unlike Adam Dachis, I think it's great — but only because I have a few very specific uses for it. It's nice for the occasional Instapaper session on the couch or a game of Fruit Ninja, and I've wasted countless hours reading Reddit on Flipboard. However, its killer use for me is as a digital comic book reader. If I weren't such a big comic book geek, I probably wouldn't have ever bought it in the first place. It's nice, but hardly essential. Plus, browsing and IMing on that keyboard makes me want to poke my eyes out with a stick.
DESK & OFFICE ESSENTIALS
Above is my Hackintosh's desktop. I have Twitter, IM windows, the Lifehacker editor chat room and some handy Geektool scripts running on the left, while I leave the right desktop open for work (though when I'm waist-deep in Lifehacker posts, I usually have browser windows open on both). I've also got my to-do list on the right monitor which is handy, as it's always nagging at me to get stuff done. The iTunes track display on the left monitor is the cool app Bowtie. Most of the UI on my Mac — window colours, the dock, the icons in the finder, the fonts — are all custom, and I don't remember where I got most of it. It's usually the result of me fiddling with stuff and Googling around for cool tweaks. The window transparency and title bar colours come from an app called CrystalClear Interface for OS X.
I spend a good portion of my time in Linux too, but as you can see, my Linux desktop doesn't look all that different. Same principles, different OS. I'm using KDE and a few cool plasmoids (but more on that later).
Browser Setup Main Browser: Chrome Just like everyone else, my primary browser is Chrome. It's fast, has some nice extensions, and is native on OS X. I won't bore you with the same stuff everyone else has already said.
I will say this: Chrome annoys the pants off of me sometimes. It's got some really weird quirks with Flash, certificates, caches, and other things that in certain situations are just a giant pain in the arse. I ran the Firefox 4 betas for a month or two last year, and I'm on the verge of doing it again. Firefox has gotten a lot better lately, and Chrome's annoyances are starting to irk me. It's one of those things that doesn't necessarily affect everyone, but it seems like it gets in the way of my work every day, so I'm getting to that point where I want to see what else is out there.
Extensions I don't run a ton of extensions; I mostly use Xmarks to sync bookmarks between computers, and LastPass to sync my passwords and automatically log me in to all my favourite sites. Also helpful are After the Deadline for spell checking, Minimalist Gmail for Gmail customisation, and FlashBlock to keep that pesky plug-in in check. Of course, I whitelist my favourite sites, because I want to support them.
Web Apps I'm starting to come around to the whole web apps fad. I'm beginning to use Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Reader more and more regularly. I'm also a big fan of Springpad for organising my notes and Remember the Milk for managing tasks. However, when possible, I try to avoid the web apps and just do stuff through my browser's address bar.
While a lot of stuff is moving to the web these days, I still love desktop apps. Here are some of my favourites.
- Dropox: For almost a year, the other editors made fun of me for not using Dropbox. I only had one computer at the time, so I didn't really need it. As soon as I got more machines, though, Dropbox became integral to my workflow. Now I can edit documents, run scripts, play music, and access any other files on all of my secondary machines. I can't live without this app.
- Flux: This is one of my favourite apps of all time. I hang out in the dark a lot (I like the way all those blue LEDs look at night, OK?!), and being able to see my screen without my eyes hurting is incredible. It takes a bit of getting used to at first (I definitely had to start off using on the lowest setting), but after a week or so I didn't know how I ever lived without it. Download this app right now.
- The GIMP: I use Preview on OS X for simple cropping and resizing, but on Linux and Windows the GIMP is my go-to image editing application. While the GIMP does exist on OS X, I generally use Seashore for the more advanced stuff. It's essentially an X11-free, Mac-native version of the GIMP for more advanced image editing.
- Postbox: I'm slowly using Gmail's web interface more and more, but when I'm not, I'm using Postbox. It is, hands down, the best mail client on the Mac. Apple Mail is OK, but Postbox really makes organising your email easy. If Gmail had a native app, it would be this: amazing threading, conversation views, quick reply, advanced searching, turning starred messages into a to-do list, and other advanced features make it pretty hard to turn down.
- NetNewsWire: A great RSS reader for Mac that syncs with Google Reader. It's got a nice 3-pane view from which you can quickly move through articles and feeds with the arrow keys, and its got great support for things like Instapaper and AppleScript.
- Adium: It's the best IM client that's ever existed, on any platform.
- Fluid: I use it for the Lifehacker editor chat room, on and off for Gmail, and other webapps. It's really handy for the things I want to keep completely separate from my browser.
- TextExpander: Our post editor here at Gawker is really just a big white box. There's no WYSIWYG, you just type out your posts, HTML and all. Text expansion makes the long, repetetive HTML tags really easy to type.
- Perian: VLC is great and all, and I use it when I have to, but I prefer Perian. It plays almost every type of file right in QuickTime, which is cool for two reasons. One: QuickTime X is the bomb (I love those disappearing title bars). And two: it means you can also play those videos in iTunes, Quick Look, and other QuickTime-powered areas of OS X.
- iTunes: The day someone makes a music player on OS X that doesn't suck, I'll ditch iTunes. But the selection on OS X is supremely awful, so I'm content to use it for now.
- Kiwi: I still don't know why everyone's so excited about the new official Twitter client for Mac. Kiwi is, in my opinion, the best Twitter client on OS X. You can't beat the inline image previews, keyboard shortcuts, and filters that Kiwi has built-in.
- Quicksilver: It launches apps quickly, turns any action into a keyboard shortcut, and looks damn cool. Build 58 is still slow for me, so I use the Snow Leopard-problematic B54 for daily use, and have a copy of B58 stashed away for when I need to edit the preferences.
- TextWrangler: It's a good text editor. I'm writing this post in it right now. Color-coded HTML markup for the win.
- Arch Linux: I triple boot the Hackintosh with Windows and Linux, and my main Linux installation is Arch. If you have a bit of Linux experience, I highly recommend you check it out. I won't ramble here, since I've already gone on at length about how much I love it.
- KDE: I'm really having a hard time deciding whether I like GNOME or KDE better. I'm using KDE right now, and it's got a lot of good things going for it: the Plasma Desktop, which has some neat widgets and supports some cool taskbar customisations, incredible apps like Amarok (see below), and some serious configuration preferences. That said, there's definitely a learning curve. Even when I first started using Linux, GNOME took me just a few minutes to figure out. Trying to decode KDE's confusing menus and preferences took me about a week. It's a bit more resource heavy, and since it isn't quite as popular as GNOME, there aren't quite as many KDE-based applications. One day, I'll probably do a deeper look into each one and which fits my workflow better, but for now, I'm giving KDE a chance.
- Amarok: Simply put, this program is awesome. It's playlist-based view is really cool and handy when you're a bit ADD in your music listening. It's a far cry from the library-based programs like iTunes and Winamp, but I like to live life on the edge.
- Packer: My favourite AUR package manager for Arch. Basically, after going through the trouble of installing this one program, every program you could ever imagine is available to you with a simple, one-line Terminal command. This is a must-have for any Arch Linux user.
- Smooth Tasks: This is a plasmoid that essentially turns the KDE taskbar — which is reminiscent of Vista and pre-Vista versions of Windows — into a more Windows 7-like taskbar. It doesn't work quite as well as the Windows 7 taskbar, and I'm not in love with it, but it's what I'm using for right now. It seems to be better than the other taskbar replacements I've tried.
The rest of my Linux apps are less exciting. I use Kopete for IM, Choqok for Twitter, Ktorrent for torrenting, and so on — basically the apps you'd expect on a KDE desktop. There isn't a huge selection, so I won't waste time recommending apps to you. The best recommendation I can make is that, if you haven't tried Arch Linux, give it a go. You'll never go back to Ubuntu again.
As I said, I'm an Android guy, so the best apps are really the ones that come with the phone, like Gmail, Google Voice and Google Talk. In addition, I'm using the native apps for my other favourite webapps, like Springpad, Mint and Google Reader. The rest of my favourite software includes:
- CyanogenMod: I will never, ever use an Android phone without CyanogenMod again. I won't even buy a phone until someone's already ported this ROM to it. The conveniences this ROM adds to Android, like the power control widget in the notificaiton bar, lock screen gestures and music app improvements, are incredible. I can't recommend it highly enough.
- LauncherPro: You've heard me recommend LauncherPro time after time after time, and there's a reason. It's insanely fast, and has more customisation options than you can shake a stick at. Honourable mention in the launcher category is Zeam. It's the fastest launcher in the West, and sometimes I find myself giving up the advanced LauncherPro features for it's insane speed.
- ROM Manager: The easiest way to flash custom ROMs to your device.
- Swype: My preferred keyboard. The beta definitely has its quirks (why can't I delete words from the dictionary?), but every time I try something else, I always come back to Swype. My brother, on the other hand and swears by SwiftKey, so if you don't like swipe keyboards, that's the best alternative.
- PDANet: The most reliable tethering method I've come across. You can get it for free if you don't care about HTTPS, but its $US15 price tag really isn't bad if you think about it. After all, if you paid for tethering through your carrier, you'd pay closer to $US25... a month.
- SetCPU: Old Droid is old. This makes it go faster. End of story.
While I don't use my iPad for a ton of different things, I do have a few favourite apps. Namely, I recommend Perfect Browser for a superior browsing experience, Instapaper for great offline article reading, and ComicZeal for the best damn comic book reading experience you ever had.
TIPS & TRICKS CLOSEST TO MY HEART
We share a lot of tips, tricks, hacks and pieces of software every day here at Lifehacker. Apart from the tips I've already linked to, here are some of my favourites I've seen over the years.
Focus on Immediate Instead of Long-Term Exercise Benefits for Better Motivation: I'm not exactly what you would call a burly man. I used to be an athlete, but that ended abruptly after high school. I have the same proble most folks do: I really just don't feel like getting off the couch to exercise. But lately I've started working out again, and I have to say: this is the best motivation I've ever had to stay in shape. It's weird, but I kind of love the refreshing yet exhausting way my arms feel like jelly after working out. It's enough motivation to get me up and get me exercising.
How to Install a Solid-State Drive in Your MacBook: My solid-state drive is in my Hackintosh now, but back when I did this, it was the best upgrade I ever made to my computer. If you have a desktop, put an SSD in an empty drive slot. If you have a laptop, take out the optical drive and put an SSD in its place. You won't regret it (come on, when was the last time you really used that CD drive?).
What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain: My hatred for caffeine started long before Kevin wrote this article, but to anyone and everyone that's addicted to their morning cup, I can't recommend reading this enough. I'm a firm believer that while an occasional coffee (or red bull, or whatever) can help you push through a sleep-deprived day, using it to "wake up" every morning is going to do more harm than good. Perhaps it's because I'm young and naive, perhaps it's because I'm already an energetic guy, or perhaps it's because there's only enough room in my life for one beverage addiction. Either way, I avoid coffee like the plague and I have no problem being energetic and productive in the morning.
Eat Greasy Foods with Chopsticks to Avoid Fingerprints: Everyone always laughs at me for this, but this is still one of the most memorable tips I've seen on Lifehacker. I really like eating potato chips. I also really like using my computer. Eating the chips with chopsticks lets me do both at the same time, without getting grease all over my keyboard. Yes, I'm serious — I actually do this on a regular basis.
It's weird, even though I've linked to a million different things in this post, I know I've only scratched the surface of the cool life hacks I've come to love. Plus, I haven't been lurking this site nearly as long as the other editors (or as long as some of you guys, for that matter), so there are still years worth of tips on this site that I haven't even discovered yet. If you've got tips you'd like to share with me (or want to know more about anything I've talked about above), let's talk about it in the comments!