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Colin Gourlay

Interactive story developer (ABC News, Australia)

in data, developer, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Colin Gourlay, and I'm a developer at ABC News, tasked with using code to help them tell stories in new and interesting ways. I originally joined the ABC as a developer, working on the front-end of their CMS and building a few data-driven interfaces for last year's Australian federal election coverage. At the start of this year, I was chosen to join a new team that focused entirely on digital storytelling, interactive content and data journalism. Every week has a new angle and new challenges, and I'm thoroughly enjoying working alongside journalists and creatives that strive to advance the art of storytelling on the web.

If I'm not working, I'll either be reading, making music, playing board/card games or hacking on silly throwaway side projects. I also (occasionally) do a bit of speaking about data visualisation and JavaScript.

I'm collypops on Twitter and colingourlay on GitHub.

What hardware do you use?

At work, I use a 15" Retina MacBook Pro. I've noticed a huge improvement in productivity since switching to a computer with a SSD, and the i7 processor & 16GB memory allow me to run a few VMs for development/testing without a noticable impact on responsiveness. The MacBook is paired with a 27" Thunderbolt Display, which encourages me to constantly check out my work on low & high DPI screens. Both sit on a height-adjustable desk that I leave permanently at standing level, because I'm too lazy to constantly crank it up and down; the downside of this being that when I take sitting breaks I look like a bit of an idiot.

We have an assortment of phones and tablets in the office for testing our responsive interfaces. The iPod Touch and iPad Mini with Retina Display are my go-to devices, though I do occasionally pick up the some low-end devices running Android when I'm feeling masochistic.

Everywhere else, I use my personal 13" Retina MacBook Pro. It's not quite as powerful as my work laptop, but it's the perfect form-factor for pulling out anywhere I can get a chance to work on my own stuff. My home standing desk is a little less sophisticated; I repurpose my keyboard stand and sit it a few feet from an eye-level bookcase shelf that supports an unnoteworthy 24" LCD.

My personal phone is an LG Nexus 5. I've been happy with the Nexus line of phones since I abandoned my iPhone 3GS in 2011, which was around the time I felt Android became stronger in terms of the features I want in a phone (multi-tasking, inter-app communication). Most of the innovation happening in the phone space now is in software so I haven't felt the need to upgrade to the Nexus 6. My wife has always used iPhones, so I have the luxury of a constant stream of iOS testing devices, without having to use one myself. Maybe next year I'll be convinced to switch back to iPhone full-time.

The music I create is mostly sample-based and is quite loop-heavy, so to allow me to experiment faster, I use a Novation Launchpad. There's something about the physical buttons that makes me feel more like I'm playing an instrument.

My current favourite piece of 'hardware' is the gaming table I built from a collection of IKEA parts and some odds and ends from my local DIY store. I'm now the proud owner a gold-felted 1.5x1.5m playing surface, complete with guard rail and replaceable covers that let it double as a dining table. Its also has tons of storage underneath for my board/card games. I should really get round to posting the specs somewhere.

And what software?

I run OS X Yosemite. I ran the developer preview and I was surprised so the amount of rough edges that made it into the public release. Yosemite is very much an OS for high DPI screens only. I updated my 2009 MacBook Pro recently, and I can hardly read the text in the UI.

I haven't done much to customise the OS X experience, other than installing Mathias Bynen's dotfiles for some terminal goodies, as well as a few convenience apps:

  • iTerm2 - a far superior terminal.
  • Moom - window arrangement.
  • Caffeine - stops my MacBook from dimming/locking itself.
  • Alfred - a great launcher, though Spotlight is getting better.
  • Cloudup - to store and share my screenshots.

I used to use Dropbox more, but since I started using Cloudup, I realised I didn't have much else I needed to sync between machines. Now my Dropbox is a bucket to store content that gets spat out out my IFTTT recipes (such as my Twitter and Instagram archives). One of the best decisions I made this year was to do a stocktake of all the accounts I have on the websites and services I use, reset all of my passwords and throw them into LastPass. I couldn't recommend it more. The biggest time-saver is being able to pre-fill secure passwords on my phone, instead of picking short, duplicate passwords for the sake of convenience.

I write all of my code in Sublime Text 3, with a few extensions for highlighting code and catching syntax errors. At the ABC, we collaborate using a suite of Atlassian software, and manage our code in Stash. For personal projects I have my own git server, but work on all of my open projects on GitHub. In the storytelling team, we also use Trello in a variety of ways, from idea generation, to tracking upcoming news events, to simple to-do lists that help us get interactives polished and out the door.

My development browser has been Chrome for a few years now. I ignored Firefox during this time, but I've recently picked up the new Firefox Developer Edition, and can see myself switching soon. I usually design in the browser, but when I'm collaborating with designers or creating icons/logos, my go-to tool is Sketch. Nearly all of the configurable properties in Sketch have a direct mapping to CSS, and exporting bitmaps at multiple resolutions is a streamlined process.

Ensuring my interactive content works in recent versions of Internet Explorer has become much easier with the VMs that Microsoft provide at modern.IE. I also take advantage of the remote debugging tools built into Chrome and Safari to debug web content running live on Android and iOS, respectively.

For music production, I use Ableton Live, which has a live performance mode that I can control with my Launchpad. I also dabble with Propellerhead Reason, but it's quite overwhelming and I plan to get more acquainted with it in 2015. For listening, I really like Rdio, but in Australia there are a ridiculous number of albums unavailable, for no good reason.

What would be your dream setup?

To be honest, I have nearly everything I want in a setup already, but if I could perfect it, I'd encourage Apple to release their Retina 5K display as a standalone monitor, and get two of them. I'd also really like to own a phone with Apple's build quality and design sensibility, but running Android. On the software side, I'm craving a way to collaborate on datasets in the same way we collaborate on code with git; I'm keeping a close eye on the Dat project, as it's showing great promise.