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 Elly Blue

Elly Blue

Co-owner, Microcosm Publishing

in mac, publisher

Who are you, and what do you do?

I run the marketing, editorial, and software development departments at Microcosm Publishing in Portland, Oregon, where I'm a co-owner. We publish delightful, colorful nonfiction books that give readers tools to change their life and then the world, and we are also a distributor and wholesaler for other publishers, large and tiny, whose books are aligned with our mission. My work every day is motivated by remembering what I once needed as a 14-year-old zine-obsessed high school dropout. Before I did this, I was a writer and bicycle activist.

What hardware do you use?

Apple products, mostly. I have mixed feelings about it, but it's been 20 years and there's no going back. We outsource our production, so most of our day-to-day work is on computers. I recently started using an external monitor with my laptop, and having two screens is pretty amazing - how did I function without this?

But there is some technology I can get excited about on a daily basis. Joe (Microcosm's founder and publisher) and I spend a lot of time riding cargo bikes, picking up boards and hard wood furniture people are throwing away so he can turn it into new shelving for our store, office, and warehouse. I ride an old mountain bike converted to a longtail Xtracycle. Joe has a hand-built front-loader made by an inventor named Tom LaBonty here in Portland. And we just added a Truck Trike to our fleet - it's an electric tricycle with a cargo box; we're going to use it to haul our books to and from local events once those are happening again.

Not work related, but the other key piece of technology in my life is my partner's electric shaver for my remaining hair. I shaved my head last year after my alopecia flared up - it's a weird condition that makes your hair fall out but is otherwise unharmful. I was surprised to find that being bald makes me feel most like my true self. It's only awkward when people assume I have cancer.

And what software?

At Microcosm we use an ever-evolving custom CMS that we call Working Lit. Our web developer is a comics artist who we publish. Almost 20 years ago, before e-commerce was a big thing, he was like "there are some cool things you could do with a database." And he's since created a wonderful, complicated behemoth that tracks inventory and ordering, manages royalties and accounting, propagates our metadata, and sells books to customers. One long-term project is to spin off parts of it into a software tool that can help other publishers free themselves from reliance on giant corporations. That keeps getting stalled because of how fast we're growing, though.

We also use Google products for editing and any spreadsheets that aren't yet integrated into our CMS, and Slack for office communications - even before the pandemic we had a lot of people work remotely, and someone was nearly always traveling for an event, so it's helped the team stay connected.

My favorite app is Libby, for reading books from the library - it made me love reading all over again. Also, the period tracker Clue.

What would be your dream setup?

Because we're constantly building out Working Lit to adjust to our needs as a growing company, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to automate various processes, save people hours, or make the software more intuitive. I suppose there's no ideal state out there where it's "done." So my dream state is one in which I have the patience and calm mind to really think through every aspect of what we're doing and make reasoned decisions and judgments, because whenever I act hastily is when things go really haywire.

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