Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Angela Chen
Image by Sylvie Rosokoff.

Angela Chen

Science journalist, writer, editor

Posted in editor, journalist, mac, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Angela Chen and I'm a science journalist, writer, and editor. I spent seven years working in newsrooms before deciding to freelance full-time so I could pursue a variety of writing projects in different lengths and styles. I write essays and features and am the author of Ace, a nonfiction book about asexuality. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of emerging technology and ethics - think medical humanities and tech policy issues around surveillance and labor.

What hardware do you use?

I have a 13-inch MacBook Air and an iPhone 8 Plus. I do phone interviews wearing the Jabra Evolve 75 wireless headset so I can type and transcribe as I talk. For in-person interviews, I use the Zoom H1 Handy Recorder.

For reading, I like the Kindle Paperwhite. I'm not a purist when it comes to books as physical objects and really love the instant gratification of checking out ebooks from the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library.

The best hardware investment I've made in a long time is my Brother HL Laser Printer, which is absolutely worth both the money and the space it takes in my tiny apartment. Not only is it easier to catch mistakes when reading on paper, I no longer feel panicked about printing out freelance contracts or shipping labels and the like.

The Baron Fig Confidant notebook is my all-purpose everyday notebook, which beats any digital to-do list or app. I also use yellow legal pads for brainstorming and basically can't write using anything but the Pilot G-2 pens.

And what software?

Google Docs for everything. Google Calendar is also crucial. In addition to putting my actual events and calls on the calendar, I schedule out my day in two-hour blocks. As a freelancer, it can be easy to get distracted, so I'll make a gray box that says "finish outlining X article" or "brainstorm and pitch," so a glance at the calendar will tell me what I'm supposed to be doing. As a person, I'm more rigid than I'd like to be, but I've learned to work with it. I use Trello to keep track of various projects. For instance, I have one board for articles I'm editing, one for tracking stages of various pitches, and so on.

I have TapeACall Pro for recording calls and Call Recorder for Skype for the same reason. I pay for Otter Premium to transcribe the calls using AI, though I'm a little iffy on Otter's privacy policies. The transcription isn't perfect, but it's good enough and it makes fact-checking so much easier - I can just CTRL-F a few words in the quote and listen to it again.

Scrivener is great for longer projects, even though I don't touch most of the features. I used it to structure and write my book, but it's also a good way for me to organize research for longer articles. (I never did get used to Zotero.)

Writers can have very different working styles. I know some who write for 10 hours and then emerge and don't write again for three days. I'm not like this. I write everything in 25-minute increments and work on projects every day. As a result, I like the pomodoro technique and use TomatoTimer. Then, I input the number of pomodoros I do on a particular project to Beeminder, which charts my progress and warns me if I'm going off course.

I rely a lot on Boomerang (and now, Gmail's built-in scheduling and snooze tools). I'll schedule anxiety-provoking emails so they send when I'm doing something else and not at the computer. I'll also schedule emails so people receive them at reasonable hours - I hate emailing people on the weekends, even if I myself am doing work then.

For reading the web, I'm used to Feedly. For notetaking, Workflowy is great for making lists and collecting story ideas, though recently I've become fond of Roam for its bidirectional links.

Of course, I also use all the usual social media sites. To avoid distraction, I use the Self Control extension on Chrome. On my iPhone, I block social media sites using the parental control settings, which are meant to prevent kids from looking up porn, but work perfectly well for my own purposes.

What would be your dream setup?

Even though I'm a freelancer, I actually love office environments, so I miss co-working spaces. I also would like to simply have a desktop computer, or even an external monitor and keyboard. And I dream that one day MacBooks will have better keyboards.

Uses This is supported by ZSA, makers of the Moonlander, ErgoDox EZ and Planck EZ keyboards. They also publish an awesome newsletter.