This is the week every year where we Lifehacker writers share the systems, software and tricks that keep us glued to our keyboards pumping out content for you the reader. Like Thorin, last year I was merely a Lifehacker reader, so many of my computing choices have been guided by our current stable of writers. Unlike most of the team, I have two small kids and my wife has chosen to occasionally freelance from home and not work full time, so I work hard to make the most out of my tiny tech budget.
Desktops & Laptops
Yes, I name my computers, but instead of norse gods or Jupiter moons, I tend to go with Dystopian author names. I tend to use my systems for several years (last August I finally upgraded my laptop from my 2006 Dell Inspiron), so they start to feel like part of the family, which only reinforces naming.
- Laptop: Lenovo G570 Laptop “Huxley” After using Spiro, my trusty Dell Inspiron for five years, I finally upgraded to a new laptop. I’m not much of a video gamer these days and since budget is always a concern for me I ended up snagging my Lenovo with an i3 processor, 6GB RAM, 750GB SATA HDD, and all the other basic amenities running Windows 7 and Linux Mint for around $US400. It works well for my combination of surfing, writing, light photo editing and tinkering.
- Desktop #1: Custom Windows7/Ubuntu Desktop “Orwell”This ageing system uses an AMD Phenom Quad Core processor, 8GB RAM and a TB HDD. Later in the year I’m planning on a new motherboard/processor/SSD drive. It’s currently running Windows 7 and Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot.
- Desktop #2: White iMac G5 20-inch (late 2007) “Atwood” This is my wife’s computer that I use when I’m testing out Mac apps. It’s still running Snow Leopard and CS2 and I try not to tinker with it too much other than installing updates and testing apps.
Phones, Tablets and Other Devices
- LG Optimus V: In trying to pinch every penny we use Virgin Mobile’s **Beyond Talk prepaid plan. I’m grandfathered in at $US25/month for unlimited data and 300 minutes a month, which is more than enough as I place most calls using Google Voice (more on that later).
- iPhone 3GS — This is my wife’s former phone that I use for testing iOS apps.
- HP Touchpad 32GB “Bradbury” Yes, I was lucky enough to get a Touchpad during the fire sale at Best Buy. I currently dual boot between Cyanogen Mod7 and WebOS. The Touchpad was a lifesaver for my wife when we were in the hospital for a few days with the birth of my daughter in November.
- Kindle Touch This is my second Kindle, I’m getting a lot more use out of this Kindle than my previous one now that we have the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Daily Kindle Deals, and since libraries can now loan ebooks on Kindles. I carry it everywhere.
To continue my theme of frugality I use a messenger bag given out at a retreat from a former employer. The bag was made by a now-defunct company called OOBE and is comfy and has logically designed pockets. My new laptop does not fit the 12-13 inch padded slot however, so I have a padded laptop sleeve that fits inside the bag nicely. Other frequently used accessories include:
- Sony Bluetooth DR BT-101 Stereo Headphones These are pretty decent for the price ($US40) but my holy grail wireless headphones would include the ability to be used as a corded headphone while recharging and have a micro USB rather than mini USB connection like most of my other tech gear.
- Moleskine Large Ruled Notebook I’ve recently gone back to using a notebook-based GTD system (more details below) and picked up a Moleskine as I was impatient and Barnes and Noble carries them. Next time I’ll probably go with a cheaper option or one with superior paper as most of my favourite pens tend to bleed through the Moleskine.
- Logitech MX Revolution Mouse I picked up this mouse on the second-hand market not too long ago. I love the ergonomics, the thumb slide wheel for switching applications and the free-spinning scroll wheel.
- Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 Keyboard Just a basic erogonomic keyboard with multimedia keys. After several years a few of the keys only respond half the time so I need to upgrade to a newer model.
- Cooler Master Laptop Stand w/ USB Hub I probably shouldn’t include this as I just ordered it and haven’t even had the chance to set it up yet. I did a lot of research to find a keyboard stand with silent cooling fans and a USB hub, and this one came out as the winner.
- Victorinox Cybertool I have an electronics toolbox from my days as a former PC hardware tech, but most computer builds/repairs can be handled with this beefy SAK (swiss army knife).
- Zoom H2 Audio Recorder This is a great inexpensive audio recorder. I use it for occasional podcasting and recording local concerts and lectures. The four onboard mics have a variety of recording modes.
- Nikon D40 Camera I’m not much of a photographer, but when I need to snap a few photos I use my wife’s D40 with 18-55mm and 55-200VR lenses.
I prefer using webapps when possible so I can use the same tools no matter what computer or OS I happen to be using at any given moment. As with my hardware choices the software I use has been chosen with extreme frugality in mind so I use GimpShop instead of Photoshop. Fortunately most of what I use is free or low cost.
Web Browser, Extensions and Web Apps
Ever since last year when I read the 2011 Lifehacker “What We Use” posts I made the change from Firefox to Chrome and haven’t looked back, although Whitson’s reasoning behind switching back to Firefox presents a good argument to give it a try again. These are my favourite Chrome extensions:
- Add to Amazon Wish List
I’m notoriously hard to shop for and keeping everything on my wish list makes it easy for friends, family and grateful readers (hint hint) to find the items I actually want.
- After the Deadline
Even though I’m pretty good at avoiding common spelling and grammar typos, it’s nice to have an in-browser tool to make sure I use proper seplling and grmmaar.
Yes, like everyone else at Lifehacker I love Dropbox.
- Google Tasks There are a million ways to automate tasks using Gmail; this is the one I like.
- Google Voice
Great for making calls directly from my computer, checking voicemail and texts. Basically I never have to use my mobile phone while at my computer.
This is an essential extension for me as I use the Gmail’s webapp as my primary mail system and this extension makes every email address link open up a tab with a new message from my primary Gmail account. To me, desktop mail apps are part of yesterday’s internet, so this hugely helpful.
- Music Plus for Google Music
Ever since I helped Lifehacker Overlord Adam Pash beta test this extension it’s been part of my secondary music player.
- Search By Image for Google
This extension makes Google’s Search By Image feature much easier to use than copying and pasting URLs or saving images on your system.
This helps me give badly-laid-out sites I visit a makeover. It’s great for removing ad areas, changing fonts, etc.
- What’s The Font
Great when I need to know what font a page is using.
- Write Space When I need to buckle down, avoid social media and write this extension gives me a distraction-free space to write.
Most of my webapps reveal my inner Google fanboy, the usual suspects such as Google Docs, Google Reader and Google Music, but there are a few surprises as well like SimpleNote, the place where I keep all of my lists, from story ideas to plans to take over the world. I’m also a fan of Pinterest as it’s fun to have visual lists. Finally, I spend a lot of time at BoardGameGeek. BGG is for board games what IMDb is for movies. Everything you’d ever want to know about a game, social networking, lots of top 10 lists and so on. It’s the holy grail if you’re into board games.
Again, a lot of the stuff I use routinely is web-based, but there are a few old favourites such as:
It’s a little clunkier than Photoshop, but much less so than vanilla GIMP. It does most of what I need, but I am looking to go back to Photoshop sometime during the year.
- Mouse Without Borders simply shares your mouse, keyboard and files between multiple Windows PCs. Using this means I don’t need a KVM switch to use the same setup with my desktop and notebook PCs.
- Notepad++ is popular with developers which explains why there are so many plugins available. It is lightweight, powerful and almost infinitely customisable.
- Rainmeter: Speaking of customisation, Rainmeter is the holy grail of Windows desktop dislays.
- uTorrent: If you’re using Windows and share files using Bittorrent, you want uTorrent, and this is coming from a longtime user of Azureus.
- I’ve used Winamp for playing wav and mp3s since around 1998. It’s a great basic player with a lot of plugins, or as the developers will say, “It really whips the llama’s ass!”
Like many of the other Lifehacker wrtiers, I don’t keep a lot of permanent apps on my phone. It helps that the Optimus LG’s internal storage sucks and many apps can’t be moved to the SD card. Here’s what I regularly use:
- Audible I recently signed up for Amazon’s Audible.com promotion to snag a free Kindle Touch and I’m enjoying grabbing an audiobook every month. Plus having the audiobook on my phone is much more convenient than dealing with up to a dozen CDs from the library.
- BeyondPod is great if you regularly listen to podcasts. I even coughed up for the pro version when it was on sale during the holidays.
- Caller Info is a very simple app that displays caller’s city/region/state underneath the area code. Helpful if you know your friend from NYC will call, but you don’t have her number.
- Dropbox is needed to pull documents while on the go.
- Goodreads makes it easy to track the books on my to-read list so I’m always prepared when I go to a library or bookstore.
- Google Voice allows me to make calls for free when I have a Wi-Fi connection. This is how I rarely use even half of my tiny 300 minutes per month allowance.
- Redbox I usually rent DVDs from Redbox’s site, but on occasion when out and about I use this app to preselect my movies so I don’t have to stand in line watching the guy in front of me get the last copy of the DVD I want to rent.
- ShootMe is a simple screenshot app that requires a rooted Android device.
- Where’s My Cellphone is great for those situations where your phone fell behind your bed while silenced. Log into the webapp and you can turn off silencing so you can find it much easier.
Tips and Tricks Closest to My Heart
Like Whitson, I have a hard time remember all of the tricks I use regularly as they’ve become regular habits. Nevertheless, here are a few that definitely came from Lifehacker:
- Developing a Moleskine GTD system Getting Things Done is a great productivity philosophy, and while there are hundreds of computer tools to follow GTD I prefer to use an old-fashioned notebook and pen to organise my tasks, thoughts and lists.
- Take Great Notes If you do use a pocket notebook you’ll need some sort of shorthand notation for tasks, action items and the like. This post features the system used by publishing CEO Michael Hyatt.
- How to Use Text Expansion to Save Yourself Hours of Typing Every Day As soon as I began writing for Lifehacker last year, I knew I needed a way to save time with frequently used HTML tags, boilerplate email responses and other code snippets. Enter text replacement.
- How to Unlock Your Garage Door from the Inside and How to Prevent It We had a few break-ins in our neighbourhood last year where the thieves got in through the garage door. I used this tip a few months before the break-ins and slept much better at night as a result.