This week we’re sharing the hardware, software, tips and tricks, that keep our blogging wheels spinning. Today, I’m running through my favourite gadgetry, apps, hacks and tricks for making said gadgetry bend to my will.
The last time we did this series, I was a reader frantically downloading new apps and trying out new extensions to help get a hold of my often chaotic freelance workflow. Most of the software below was purchased or downloaded because I found it here, so don’t be surprised if you notice some striking similarities to other team members.
Desktops & Laptops
I’ve managed to minimize the amount of computers in the house over the years to just two machines. Where I once had a computer for each task, I decided to cut down on what I owned and reduce the clutter. Right now, I just own a one laptop and one desktop. The computer names come from the fact that about 10 years ago I was stealing Wi-Fi from a Greyhound station across the street and for whatever reason, I kept the names running.
- Desktop: Greyhound 6, my 27-inch iMac (late 2009): When I was in school for the second (third?) time, I was knee deep in research for a thesis and needed a lot of screen real estate. I had no desktop at the time and was itching for something new and fresh. When Apple introduced the 27-inch widescreen iMac’s with the i7 processor upgrade I jumped on it and have been using it ever since. I have a BootCamp installation of Windows 7 for when I need to pop over and use Windows software (or more likely games).
- Laptop: Greyhound 5, my 15-inch Macbook Pro (2007): When Apple introduced the new unibody Macbook design I hated the two-tone look, glass screen, and the new keyboard. I wasn't in the market for a new laptop at the time, but I snagged up one of the last refurbished Macbook Pro's with the aluminum-style keyboards. I love the keyboard on these models more than any other keyboard I've ever owned and, if necessary, will find some way to keep this Macbook alive for the rest of time. Yes, the laptop itself is clunky, heavy, and doesn't fit comfortably anywhere, but it has the best keyboard I've laid my fingers on.
Phones, Tablets, and Other Mobile Devices
I was once a big fan of multitasking everywhere I went and using my mobile devices for everything I did. Over time I've learned to minimise my usage and get away from the screens as much as possible. That doesn't mean I don't use my phone and tablet, but I've isolated a lot of their usage to try to cut down on the number of times I look at them throughout the day.
- Phone: 32GB iPhone 4S I've been on the two-year upgrade cycle for iPhones and subsequently I've ended up on the S-cycle. I like my phone simple, which is why I tend to keep it loaded up with only the essentials and it's also why I prefer the iPhone to Android. I realise there are plenty of neat tricks to be had on an Android, but when it boils down to it I only want my phone to keep me connected, not operate as a one-stop shop for everything I need.
- Tablet: Jailbroken 32GB iPad 1 If you ask me what my primary use of the iPad has been since I purchased it from someone upgrading to a 3G iPad in a USPS parking lot, I'd have to say it's mostly been the Kindle app. Still, I use it as a focus-machine when I'm struggling to get work done and need a distraction free writing environment.
- Other devices: Nintendo 3DS OK, this is probably the least productive thing on this list, but I bring it with me everywhere despite the fact I usually feel like a 10-year-old kid when I bust it out. As a portable break-machine, it's great to have around. If nothing else it does have a pedometer and rewards me with useless digital toys when I walk a certain distance in a day.
I like to have different options for being on the move so I have a couple different bags I use depending on the situation and my mode of transport. I tend to keep it as simple as possible, but here's what I always have with me.
- Manhattan Portage 15-inch Laptop bag: For short trips when I just need my laptop and some pens, I like my incredibly simple laptop bag.
- PAC Pro Lite Large Messenger Bag: If I'm on my bike and wandering around looking for a good place to get away and do some work, I prefer my ridiculously over-sized and versatile PAC bag. It can be a shoulder bag, a backpack, and on top of my computer and supplies it can expand to hold a week's worth of groceries.
- LaCie iAmAKey 16GB Flash Drive: It's simple and almost impossible to forget at the house so I always have a flash drive on me.
- iPad DodoCase: When the iPad first came out, I wasn't too keen on showing it off in public so I picked up the DodoCase to mask it as a notebook. It doesn't offer any real form of protection from drops, but it keeps the screen safe in my bag.
- AKG K272Hd K 272 Hd High Definition Headphone: Not exactly the most mobile set of headphones, but I'll often wander away from my studio to work on mixing music and these are what I use.
- Moleskine Square Notebook Pocket: I'll admit I started using these as a starry-eyed young university student thinking there was some type of inspiration to be found in a brand, but to this day Moleskine's are still my favourite notepads for jotting down notes and random pictures of dinosaurs.
In general, I'm more of desktop app person than I am mobile or web based. I like to backup files I'm working on in every place I can possibly imagine, but the bulk of my work I like to do from the privacy of my own computer. That's not to say I don't use a few webapps and extensions, I just prefer to keep it on my own computer when I can.
Web Browser, Extensions and Webapps
There's really one, superficial reason for my love of Chrome: the look. I realise that shouldn't play a role in browser choice, but I prefer the simple look and feel of Chrome to Firefox. I've been bouncing back and forth between the two for a while, but when it comes to daily use, it's all Chrome. Here's a few of my favourite Chrome extensions.
- TooManyTabs: I can get certifiably crazy with my tab usage now and again and TooManyTabs is my favourite management tool for helping me find the tab I'm looking for quickly.
- LastPass: Simply put, I'm always forgetting which password I use where and why. LastPass keeps that from happening.
- Amazon Wishlist: I'm a sucker for all kinds of media and to keep track of all the new junk I'm considering purchasing I needed an easy way to catalogue it. Tossing it on my Amazon Wishlist is the best way I've found yet.
- Context: Context allows me to set up specialised sets of extensions for whatever I'm doing. This is handy, because there are a ton of extensions I use on a per-project basis, but not daily. As we've seen, extensions seriously slow down Chrome. Context gives me the option to set up specialised groups for each task I'm going, whether it's research, writing or shopping.
- Google Docs: It took me a while to get used to Google Docs. As I said above, I tend to prefer desktop solutions. Still, Google Docs is my go-to for writing a lot of the time.
- Instantwatcher: To put it bluntly, Instantwatcher makes Netflix search not suck. When I'll often spend 10 or 15 minutes looking through the Netflix app to find something to watch, Instantwatcher makes the process streamlined.
- If This Then That: I like automation. When I'm trying out new webapps or programs, I like to know how it works with what I've used before and IFTTT helps keep that process easy and automatic.
- Mint: The only reason I really like Mint is the fact I like pretty graphs, but as a tool to keep track of what I'm wasting money away on Mint works great. In my head it creates a handy little visual story for every month.
If it was feasible to stuff every app I use into the menu bar, I would do it. For whatever reason, I love the quick-access, no-nonsense drop down widgets that people have made to control everything ranging from music playing to clipboard management. That's not to say I don't use regular software as well, because I do, but I really appreciate a good menu bar tool.
- Dropbox: Dropbox worked for me from the start and I've never really looked back since I started using it.
- Adium: It's my favourite IM chat client for Mac.
- Sparrow: It took me a long time to move away from Apple Mail, but Sparrow provided the added functionality I was looking for.
- F.lux: I sit in front of the computer way too much and F.lux helps ensure I don't go completely blind and don't have trouble sleeping when I'm doing it.
- Skip Tunes: Admittedly I started using it this week, but I love this little micro-controller for all my music.
- Spotify Despite some issues in recent updates, I've stuck with Spotify because I've spent way too much time working on dedicated work playlists like this one filled with all my favourite instrumental jams.
- Enqueue I ditched iTunes for music playing the second I started using Enqueue. While I still have to use iTunes for app management, that is it's only purpose now. This is my favourite music player I've used in a while.
- ClipMenu: It's a simple, free clipboard utility that sits nicely in the menu bar.
- Google Chrome: It's my browser of choice.
- Reeder: I bounce between Reeder and the vanilla Google Reader webapp, but if I want to actually get some reading done and not just skim, Reeder is my go-to app.
- DashExpander: It's rather funky to get used to, but as a free text expansion tool, it gets the job done.
- Scrawl: I love taking notes and I love menu bar apps. Scrawl does both and syncs across computers.
- Logic Pro: While I don't use it every day, when I do record and mix music Logic is my favourite program to do it. It's simplified without being simple.
- StencylWorks: I don't use StencylWorks as often as I'd like, but as a tool to teach the basics of game design (and subsequently coding basics), it has proven a far better experience than any of the books or classes I've taken. It's simple, visual, and easy to pick up and start making things with.
Sometime last year I realised off-loading my work onto my mobile device was causing serious problems with my ability to actually stop working. Since then, I've cut my iPhone down to just the apps I absolutely need and pushed a lot of the work related stuff to the iPad.
- Dropbox: Again, once I started using it I never looked back.
- Reeder: Just like the desktop version, the iOS version of Reeder makes flipping through Google Reader simple and nice to look at.
- QuickVoice: It's not exactly a great digital recorder, but it's free and does what it needs to without a lot of tricks.
- Reminders: Apple's built-in reminders app doesn't do a lot for me on the to-do list level, but I use the geo-fencing feature all the time to remind myself to tell a friend about something when I arrive at their house, or to help me remember an item as I'm leaving. It's not always quick enough to catch me before I leave, but when it does it's a massive time-saver.
- iA Writer: On my iPad, I occasionally like to throw down the Bluetooth keyboard and work without distraction. One of the chief complaints about the iPad -- it's lack of real multi-tasking -- happens to be my favourite quality.
- Amazon Mobile: When friends recommend movies, books or whatever else, I like to have an easy way to remember them. Amazon's mobile app let's me throw those ideas into a wishlist and come back to them when I have some extra money.
- Camera+: For the most part, I've completely ditched my regular camera and use my iPhone for taking photos. To be fair, I'm terrible at taking pictures, so quality isn't as much of an issue as accessibility. Camera+ provides a nice set of options the default camera on the iPhone lacks.
- Runkeeper: I don't really jog or run, but I use Runkeeper to track cycling and walking mileage so I can get a good look at what I'm doing when I go out.
- Korg iElectribe: After my house was robbed a few years ago and my real Electribe synthesiser and drum machine were stolen, I wanted to pick them up again, but the price was just too high. iElectribe gives me back at least a portion of that on my iPad.
- Korg iMS-20: Similar to the reasoning for using the iElectribe, I could never afford (or at least justify the expense) of a real Korg MS-20. The digital version allows me to tinker around just as well.
Tips & Tricks Closest To My Heart
It's pretty hard to narrow down my favourite tips and tricks because there have been so many I've put it into practice over years of reading Lifehacker. Still, some of the most memorable also happen to be some of the strangest. Here are a few I imagine will always stick in my memory.
- DIY binder clip cable catcher: This is the first post on Lifehacker that I actively remember and to this day it's a trick I continue to use to organise cables on my desktop and entertainment centre. I have found plenty of other uses for binder clips over the years, but this one will always be my favourite.
- What Stress Actually Does to You and What You Can Do About It: I can turn into a little shivering ball of stress if I'm not careful, so this post served as a handy reminder of what to do when I felt that coming on. It was also nice to see the difference between a "normal" reaction to stress and an abnormal one.
- Remove the Tube and Pull Up: Your Toilet Paper Roll Is Now a Box of Tissues: Every once and a while there comes along a tip that makes you stop in your tracks and wonder why you've never thought of it yourself. This toilet paper-to-tissues hack is one of those that I've gone on to use several times.
- Remove a Stripped Screw with a Rubber Band: Since I have a tendency to pick up old random junk and take it apart, I'm always struggling with stripped screws. Using a rubber band doesn't always work, but when it does it makes me feel like some type of certifiable Macgyver genius.
- How to Get Started with Usenet in Three Simple Steps: I've been a huge fan of Usenet for as long as I can remember. dialling in to Prodigy with my 26k modem and sifting through groups was once an average Sunday afternoon for me. Still, this article was a helpful reminder that although newsgroups have been on the decline, they still have plenty of use left in them.
- Save Water-Damaged Books, Docs and Photos by Putting Them in the Freezer: I've used this tip a few times for rain-soaked books and while it certainly doesn't return wet books to like-new condition, it makes them continue to be useful.