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A picture of Gabriel Roth

Gabriel Roth

Writer, web developer

in developer, mac, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a novelist - my first book, The Unknowns, comes out from Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown in July 2013. The book's about a computer programmer, and in the course of writing it I learned some programming and started doing freelance web development. I'm @gabrielroth on Twitter.

What hardware do you use?

I write on a 17" MacBook Pro from 2007. I took out the SuperDrive and replaced it with a second hard drive in an MCE OptiBay. I leave it in my locker at the Brooklyn Writers' Space.

At home I use a third-generation iPad, which I like better than a laptop for casual emailing, Twitter, and Instapaper reading, i.e. all the things I might want to do on a computer when I'm not working.

While I'm working, I'm usually listening to music through a pair of Sennheiser HD201 headphones, which sound good, feel pretty comfortable, and cost about $20.

And what software?


I wrote The Unknowns in Microsoft Word. At some point I started wishing I was using something else, but I didn't want to stop working to switch to a different program. The publishing industry is locked into Word's Track Changes feature, so lately I've been using it for revisions and edits.

I'm writing the next book in Scrivener. At this point Scrivener feels a bit overdeveloped, but at least it's bloated with features for writers rather than ... actually, I have no idea who most of the features in Word are for.

While writing I turn off the Internet using Freedom. When I'm writing something shorter than a book I alternate between Bean and BBEdit. Everything work-related is backed up to Dropbox.


Nothing unusual: text editing in BBEdit, version control with Git, FTP with Transmit, database fiddling with Sequel Pro, image editing with Acorn.


LaunchBar is the proverbial First Thing I Install. I was an obsessive Quicksilver user back in the day, and then I switched to LaunchBar during that dark period when QS wasn't being supported. Now Quicksilver's back in active development but I can't be bothered to retrain my fingers.

Cultured Code's Things basically runs my life. MacBreakZ helps me keep my chronic RSI issues under control. And for various system tasks, in order of how quickly I notice if they're missing: Zooom2, Path Finder, FastScripts, Jumpcut, Synergy, Hazel, Fantastical, Flux.

What would be your dream setup?

Hardware: I need a laptop because I have to schlep it from my locker to a cubicle every day, so I can't fantasize about a 30" screen or anything like that. It would be nice to have a new laptop with all the features Apple's added since I got this one: unibody construction, solid-state storage, a retina display. It would be especially nice if I could still have a 17" screen - I hope Apple isn't killing them off forever.

Software: If a programming genie granted me one wish, I'd ask for a file format between plain text (and variants like Markdown) and RTF.

All I need to write a novel is plain text plus italics, boldface, small caps, and block quotes. (I could live without the last two if I had to.) I don't need to specify fonts or import images or fuck around with line spacing.

If I use plain text, I don't get italics or boldface. Italics are part of the toolkit, and not having them (as in a plain text file) is like a piano with no black keys. And I use boldface type to make notes to myself like [tk need a better sentence here] that I know I'll spot before sending the document out.

But if I use rich text, my file specifies the typeface and point size, the margins, the line height - all this stuff that's properly the responsibility of the designer and that isn't relevant until my job is over. I want to be able to change the way the text displays without affecting the file itself, as I can in a text editor.

If the genie gave me another wish, I'd ask for a DVCS that's easy enough for non-programmers to use. Version control is a solved problem, and the fact that publishing professionals are using Word's change-tracking feature is a massive failure.

The third wish would be for infinite wishes.