Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Lex Gill

Lex Gill

Research fellow (Citizen Lab), legal researcher (CCLA)

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello! I'm a research fellow at the Citizen Lab and a legal researcher at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Between these two roles I work on all kinds of stuff -- from encryption policy and national security to policing, prisons and borders. My favourite legal problems are messy, high-stakes, and interdisciplinary.

Both organizations are based in Toronto, but I mostly live and work in Montreal. It's still a little gritty, and intensely creative -- queer and quirky and brave. No matter how much I travel, being a Montrealer is a big part of my setup.

What hardware do you use?

I have a early 2016 12" MacBook (space grey!) and an iPhone 6S (gold!).

I don't carry confidential data or devices internationally, so instead of the glorious new MacBook, I brought a (wiped) 2013 MacBook Air on a recent trip to Tokyo. That machine is on its last legs -- it's about 50% spinning beach ball and keys are starting to fall out of the board like baby teeth -- which means I'm in the market for a new travel Chromebook.

I can't find an e-reader I like, so I do a lot of long-form reading on this really cool technology called paper which is made from mashed up trees. I also still do a surprising amount of writing and drawing by hand -- I'm partial to Rhodia dot pads and recently fell in love with the feel of these double-ended pens from MUJI. I was also gifted a Space Pen last year from my partner, which -- if you've ever had a pen explode on a plane, you'll know -- is a godsend for travel.

I have an Apple Watch 2, which I use pretty much exclusively as a fitness tracker (I'd never get anything done if I enabled other notifications). I get everywhere on a cheap and reliable fixed gear bike and have a set of rainbow Monkeylectric lights which are an endless source of joy for small children and drunk local partygoers alike.

And what software?

I'm a Todoist power user. It's beautiful, reliable, and intuitive -- just about everything I plan to do or want to remember gets catalogued there somehow. I'm not a very good multi-tasker (apparently few people are) so it helps free up my working memory.

My communications setup sometimes feels a little bit like this XKCD comic. Privacy and security are important to me -- both because of the nature of my work and because of my values -- but it can be tricky getting everyone you love on the same channel. I've pared it down in recent months, but I still use some combination of Signal, Semaphor, Tor Messenger (beta), Twitter and Slack every day. I like Jitsi for videoconferencing.

A lot of my day-to-day work involves quiet writing and legal research, but I can't seem to find a lightweight text editor I love. I spent my law school days using an idiosyncratic markup system with a custom script to convert notes written in Sublime Text into billion-page LaTeX documents. I've since graduated to Bear, which is a much more elegant solution (and lets you integrate sketches!). I still use Sublime sometimes, and I'm currently taking Standard Notes for a test run.

I support the Tor Project, and use Tor for as much of my browsing as I reasonably can.

What would be your dream setup?

I have almost superstitious ideas about how spaces change the way we think and work. I think being in the right environment can encourage people to be their best selves.

So for deep focus? A large desk in the wilderness -- like something straight out of the Instagram dreamscapes of rich bohemian glampers. No clocks, endless coffee, soft grey skies and a big stack of books.

For collaborative work, I wish for -- and this, I'm convinced, is the dream of every remote worker -- an enormous kitchen table in a loft full of plants. A bucket at the door where people leave their phones and grab a pair of slippers. Natural light and open windows on cool, sunny autumn days. A fridge full of homemade snacks. All of the people I work with in one place.

Finally, most people don't realize that a lot of important legal sources are totally inaccessible: either behind (extremely expensive!) paywalls or tucked away in university libraries and courthouses. I'm lucky to have access to these kinds of sources, but projects like the Caselaw Access Project and CanLII are working to fix this problem for everyone. The law belongs to all of us -- in my dream setup, it would be free for all of us too.

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