The Setup


What do people use to get stuff done?

Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West

Librarian, MetaFilter community manager

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Jessamyn West. I live in Vermont. I'm the community manager at MetaFilter, a rural librarian and technology instructor, and I recently came out with my first book about the digital divide. I travel and speak at library conferences quite a bit. I maintain a lot of teeny websites. I write at and

What hardware do you use?

I have a 13" MacBook Air in my bag and a 24" iMac at home. I keep a spare ThinkPad for when I'm lonely for Windows or want to play with Ubuntu. I've got an old pie rack in my kitchen with a slot for every other laptop I've owned back to my original Toshiba Satellite. My dad had a DG One in his garage. I have an iPad but it doesn't solve a problem for me most of the time, so it's mostly an Angry Birds and crossword puzzle machine, good for watching videos or reading on flights. I still have to print and mail a ton of stuff, so my Brother HL-2170W has become the only printer I have not despised. I have an HP Photosmart 375 for making postcards. I'm a fan of the mail.

I also have a Walker bag full of dongles and accessories: for ethernet, for VGA, for a spare mouse the time I spilled coffee into my trackpad, for charging, for storage. I use a neoprene Belkin sleeve and this thing keeps my lap from catching on fire. I use a messenger bag from CourierWare who makes them in my town, though I've had my eye on some Tom Bihn stuff lately. With the kind of travel I do, good luggage is as important as a good laptop. When I'm home I have a good chair. I drive a Subaru Forrester which gets me and all my gear places.

I just retired my old Sony Ericsson Z750 flip phone in favor of an iPhone 3 for work. It's nice to be able to work from anywhere. I have a drawer full of old phones that I reanimate and tinker with for various things. I have a drawer full of old library catalog cards that I take relentless notes on and an arrangement of project-based clipboards that hang on the wall.

And what software?

I used Scrivener to write my book, it's the best thing there is. I'm using an old version of Taco HTML edit to write this because it's bog-simple and does exactly what I want. I made my own PowerPoint emulator out of some CSS and JavaScript but now I mostly use Keynote. I run nearly all my websites in some version of WordPress. My preferred ILS is Koha.

I run old versions of the usual software. I like open source philosophically, but I'm not culty about it. I think I'm still using Photoshop Elements 3 when I'm not just editing photos in iPhoto. Haven't found OpenOffice to be more useful for me than the old MS Office Suite. Firefox is my main browser but I sometimes teach classes in how to use Safari. I love how speedy Chrome is but the favicons on the bookmark bar give me the fidgets.

Ninety percent of my writing is in a text box on the Internet somewhere. Seven percent is in a terminal window. My online work world revolves around our home-grown MetaFilter tools. I also cruise by MLKSHK, Flickr, Facebook and my trivia league regularly. Gmail handles the bulk of my communication and I have it all jacked around using Greasemonkey. I have some legacy email that I'm still reading in elm. Adium is my indispensable chat client. I switched from delicious to unalog to pinboard and realize I don't use bookmarks so much anymore. Same realization hit me with NetNewsWire and RSS.

I'm interface-picky so I use NatsuLion for Twitter on my iPhone and Syrinx for Twitter on my desktop. Quicksilver and Time Out keep me from getting RSI. I move files around with Fugu and Cyberduck. Lately I've been listening to nothing but Bhangra.

My most important tool is actually a fake sticky note with a long list of library card numbers and passwords on it for when I need to do research. I use the usual torrenting and usenet stuff, but this feels like my most illicit activity.

What would be your dream setup?

I'd like some giant wall-or-ceiling mounted screen and the option of a standing desk or a recliner chair with treadmill/pedals attached to keep the electricity going. I want to be able to flip through 1000 documents as quickly as I could flip through the same amount of paper. I want to keyword search my memory and have a list of every website that I've ever loved accessible via my neural network. I want my computer to sing me to sleep and raise the curtains just before it's time for me to get up and hold my calls until I've had coffee. I want a murphy bed in every room that disappears into the ceiling.

For travelling, I'd like a server that would get me or stream me all my files from anywhere where I could connect to the Internet, regardless of format. And I'd like cell service everywhere in central Vermont and the little rural places where I travel, along with understandable rates when I cross geopolitical borders. I'd like to be able to watch my movies on my friends' TVs without using some stupid sneakernet solution. I want to know which of my friends is in proximity to me on my travels as easily as someone tapping on my shoulder and I'd like to meet people who are nearby me in airports who share my interests even if I don't know them.

I'd like there to be a web-based email client that was scalable with a user's level of knowledge and I'd like people's home Internet access to Just Work, same as the water or the electricity. I want all libraries to have usable reasonably-priced software and I want solutions to our copyright woes; if we're going to have DRM I want it to not make digital files horribly complicated to interact with. I want people to be better protected from fraud, malware and terrible interfaces than they currently are. I don't want technology to hurt, unless that's what you're after.

Realistically, I just want a few nicer birdfeeders that I can see from my desk. I've got everything I need.

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