Ben Chinn

Slightly nerdy ramblings and linkage


Tools are important. I once spent 6 months renovating a house and although I didn’t really know what was doing I was lucky enough to be working with somebody who did. This is the advice she gave me: use the right tool for the job and make sure your body is in the right position when you’re using it. Following this advice got me through many home improvement tasks efficiently and without injury. Surely it’s a different story when we’re talking about knowledge work though, right? Let’s see.

Use the right tool for the job

Even for those of use sitting in an office in front of a computer screen all day this is important.

  • Windows or Mac or Linux?
  • Vim or Emacs or Textmate or [insert other editor here]?
  • Sitting or standing?
  • Subversion or Git?

These are meaninful questions and the answers make a difference. Everybody in my team at work uses a Mac. I believe this gives my work environment a different character from the offices I’ve worked in where folks were on difference platforms or were all on Windows machines. I think it’s that my team feels less “corporate” even though we work within a corporate environment. Are Macs better? Maybe. What’s for certain is that they evoke a different response in their users and they are more conducive to certain kinds of work. As Doug Rushkoff argues in his book, Program or Be Programmed technologies have biases that we generally take for granted. Using the right technology means making these biases work for you.

Put your body in the right position

This comes down to using the tool correctly. If you love vim but find you’re spending half your day creating macros then maybe you need an editor that gives you less opportunity to fiddle. If you’ve got 100 emails in your inbox each of which you read every time a new message comes in then maybe you should be taking a different attitude toward your mail application.

All this being said, what are the tools that I use?

  • A iMac at home and MacBook Pro in the office.
  • Transmit, iTerm2 for web development.
  • Safari and Chrome for web browsing.
  • Apple for work emails, Sparrow for personal messages through gmail. I’ve been going back and forth from Mailplane and Sparrow and am still not sure what fits me best.
  • TextExpander, Keyboard Maestro and Launchbar. These three help me automate or speed a bunch of tasks I perform every day.
  • Omnifocus for task management
  • iPhone and iPad. I use calendar and address book almost exclusively on iOS rather than the mac.
  • Multiple tools for writing and coding. Textmate is the heavy hitter in this department and I’ll second those who say that even with its flaws and lack of visible development it still does a terrific job. I also use Nvalt for tracking text files on the Mac and a bunch of apps on iOS: Simplenote, Notesy and Writing Kit top the list.

I hope to post more about some of these tools and how to make the best of them.