Uses This

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A picture of Daniel Sinker

Daniel Sinker

Director, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews

in journalist, mac, teacher, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Dan Sinker, I'm the Director of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, which is working to build an ecosystem around journalism and open web development. I'm also the author of The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel and, in another lifetime, the founder and editor of Punk Planet Magazine (RIP).

What hardware do you use?

My sole computer is a 13" Late 2010 MacBook Air with 2gigs of RAM, 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, and a 250gig SSD drive. It is tiny and light and quite possibly the most perfect computer ever made. I've never modded this machine past taking it out of the box. Have no required components for it beyond the power cable. I love that it's just something you toss in your bag without even thinking about it, love that it wakes up instantly, love that it just works. Really, when I bought this machine, it was like one of those "you complete me" rom-com moments. The orchestra swelled.

My main phone, which is really an extension of my hand, is a Google Nexus S 4g running Gingerbread (because apparently Google has completely forgotten about this phone and, as of this writing, hasn't even announced a roadmap to Ice Cream Sandwich let alone the fucking software itself, grumble grumble grumble). It's a great phone with a shitty battery that makes it an OK phone that I'd like to be better than it is. And if that isn't a metaphor for the entire Android experience, I don't know what is. That said, every iPhone user I know thinks I'm a magician because I can gChat with them while I walk around and still can't entirely comprehend how Google Voice works like it does on this phone, so suck on that.

When I'm out of the US, my Sprint-based Nexus S is a very nice brick, so I have a trusty old-school GSM Google Nexus One that's unlocked so I can toss any old SIM in it. And seriously, if you haven't gotten to rip SIMs in and out of a phone as you travel around, you're missing out on an experience that every time will feel like the closest thing to being a spy. Unless, of course, you are a spy in which case you're reading this and thinking "amateur hour."

Both my computing experience and phone experience wouldn't be complete without my Shure SE310 sound-isolating earphones. I picked these up so I could ignore people on airplanes, but it turns out that I use them all the time. They're not bonkers-expensive (though at around $160 by no means cheap) and have been worth every penny. They just make the rest of the world go away, the first headphone I've ever owned that truly lets me focus, though often cause me to yelp like a child when startled by someone sneaking up on me. They're also hilarious to use on phone calls because it's like the call is coming from inside your head. Nerd note: the SE310 has been replaced by the SE315. Positive they are equally as awesome.

Let's face facts: even though the MacBook Air is a wonderful machine, its battery isn't all that much to write home about and the Nexus S doesn't do much better. As a result, if I'm running around I've got to bring both power cables with me. Plus, I do try to keep the Ethernet adapter for the Air close at hand along with a spare cable. Toss in an additional USB cable or two and any other random shit I need and suddenly the bottom of my backpack would look like hell without the trusty Klein Tools 5139 Canvas Zipper Bag. It's a great way to toss all that stuff in your bag without ending up in cable hell. It was recommended to me by Harper Reed and I have become somewhat religious about it since I began using it last year.

If I'm somewhat religious about the Klein Tools bag, I'm a full-on tent revivalist about the Sharpie Pen. It is, single-handedly the best pen ever manufactured. I'm not talking about the Sharpie Marker, and I'm certainly not talking about the Sharpie Pencil (which is sadness in writing-implement form), but a full-fledged pen manufactured by Sharpie. It flows smooth, the ink is solid, it doesn't bleed through paper, and it is just amazing. Seriously, I don't believe in much, but I do believe in my Sharpie Pen.

I also believe in notebooks and usually have a few on hand. My go-to back-pocket notebook is always a Field Notes memo book. They're thin enough to always stick back there and not notice its presence -- you can sit on it and it doesn't feel like you're sitting on a little block of wood, which the similar-sized Moleskine feels like. That said, the Moleskine is my go-to bag notebook. I usually have a traditional notebook size large sitting at the bottom of my bag, but I actually prefer the "Cahier" style notebooks, which are thinner and come in packs of three for the same price as the traditional notebook. That page count allows me to dedicate notebooks based on topic. Because, you know, that's important. Oh, and every single one of those notebooks across brand and size are quadrille-ruled. Hey, I just wrote the longest about notebooks. Yep, that sounds about right.

And what software?

80% of the time I'm in a browser and that's it on my machine. While I'm religious about pens and canvas bags, I'm not actually religious about browsers. I spend most of my time in the Aurora build of Firefox, but also find myself in Google Chrome pretty regularly. I like them both and find that they're pretty equivalent -- what a great time to be building things on the internet, right? Jesus, remember IE 6? We live in a golden fucking age folks. Enjoy it, relish it, live it.

Inside that browser is usually an app tab for Gmail (let's be honest: usually an app tab and six other tabs for Gmail that I keep opening and forgetting to close), an app tab for Docs, and an app tab for Google Calendar. I usually have 2-3 Etherpads open as well, which is an amazing light-weight hosted solution for collaborative writing.

If I'm not in a browser, I'm probably in Coda, which I use as a text editor for making things on the web and for pretty much all my writing as well. It's lightweight but includes some nice features, like a built-in Webkit-based preview, and a really nice CSS editor. It's nice to have one tool that fulfills pretty much all your text-based needs.

I also use the Twitter app for Mac which I used to love but is kind of driving me bonkers right now but haven't found a good single-column Twitter app to replace it. I like having a column on the left-hand side of my screen that's always up and the layout of it is such that I can offset my browser window just enough so I can see when I get new mentions, DMs, etc.

Speaking of columns, I use Sparrow for my work e-mail, which is also a single column and sits on the right-hand side of my screen. Again, I offset windows just enough that I can see when new stuff rolls in. So two columns, overlayed by a browser window. Imagine that and it's like you're watching a screencast.

Other applications that I use, but are not persistent are Spotify for music, Colloquy for IRC, Keynote for presentations, 3Hub for accessing Amazon S3, Picasa for uploading photos, and Acorn for image editing. I'm also trying to get accustomed to using The Hit List for my Getting Things Done lists. Right now I'd say I'm at about 63% good on that. The other 37%? I guess I didn't need to Get that Thing Done.

What would be your dream setup?

Honestly, I'm not wanting for a lot setup-wise. I love my machine, I like my phone. Clearly, I have a thing for the pens and notebooks and other shit I use. The one thing I dream about is having a space where I'm working along side some very close friends. Currently, I spend most of my time working at my dining room table and while that's awesome in a lot of ways, I do miss having physical colleagues close at hand.

So yeah: A place to do awesome shit with awesome people, that's my dream setup.