Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Setup

For this post, I’m going to pretend that the editors of the blog, The Setup (“a collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done”) asked me for a contribution. But in reality, I’m just following Bill Denton’s lead.

It feels a little self-indulgent to write about one’s technology purchases so before I describe my set up, let me explain why I’m sharing this information.

Some time back, in preparation for a session I was giving on Zotero for my university’s annual  technology conference, I realized that before going into the reasons how to use Zotero, I had to address the reasons why. I recognized that I was asking students and faculty who were likely already time-strapped and overburdened, to abandon long-standing practices that were already successfully working for them if they were going to switch to Zotero for their research work.

Before my presentation, I asked on Twitter when and why faculty would change their research practices.  Most of the answers were on the cynical side but there were some that gave me some room to maneuver, namely this one: “when I start a new project.”  And there’s a certain logic to this approach. If you were starting graduate school and know that you have to prepare for comps and generate a thesis at the end of the process, wouldn’t you want to conscientiously design your workflow at the start to capture what you learn in such a way that it’s searchable and reusable?

My own sabbatical is over and oddly enough, it is now at the end of my sabbatical in which I feel the most like I’m starting all over again in my professional work. So I’m using that New Project feeling to fuel some self-reflection in my own research process, bring some mindfulness to my online habits, and deliberate design into My Setup.

There’s another reason why I’m thinking about the deliberate design of research practice. As libraries start venturing into the space of research service consultation, I believe that librarians need to follow best practices for ourselves if we hope to develop expertise in this area.

As well, I think we need to more conscious of how and when our practices are not in line with our values. It’s simply not possible to live completely without hypocrisy in this complicated world but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for praxis. It’s difficult for me to take seriously accusations that hackerspaces are neoliberal when it’s being stated by a person cradling a  Macbook or iPhone. That being said, I greatly rely on products from Microsoft, Amazon, and Google so I'm in no position to cast stones.

I just want to care about the infrastructures we’re building….

And with that, here’s my setup!


There are three computers that I spend my time on: the family computer in the kitchen (a Dell desktop running Windows 7), my work computer (another Dell desktop running Windows 7), and my Thinkpad X1 Carbon laptop which I got earlier this year.  Grub turned my laptop into a dual boot machine that I can switch between Ubuntu and Windows 7. I feel I need a Windows environment so I can run any ESRI products and all those other Mac/Windows only products if need be.

I have a Nexus 4 Android phone made by LG and a Kindle DX as my ebook reader. I don’t own a tablet or an mp3 player.

Worldbackup Day is March 31st. I need to get myself an external drive for backups (Todo1).


After getting my laptop, the first thing I did was investigated password managers to find which one would work best for me. I ended up choosing LastPass and I felt the benefits immediately. Using a password manager has saved me so much pain and aggravation and now my passwords are now (almost) all unique. Next, I need to set up two factor authentication for the services that I haven’t gotten around to yet (Todo2).  

With work being done on three computers, it’s not surprising that I have a tendency to work online. My browser of choice is Mozilla but I will flip to Chrome from time to time. I use the sync functionality on both so my bookmarks are the automatically updated and the same across devices. I use SublimeText for my text editor for code, GIMP as my graphics editor, and QGIS for my geospatial needs.

This draft, along with much of my other writing and presentations are on Google Drive. I spend much of my time in Gmail and Google Calendar. While years ago, I downloaded all my email using Mozilla Thunderbird, I have not set up a regular backup strategy for these documents (Todo3). I’ve toyed with using Dropbox to back up Drive but think I’m better with an external drive. I have a Dropbox account because people occasionally share documents with me through it but at the moment, I only use it to backup my kids Minecraft games.

From 2007 to 2013, I used delicious to capture and share the things I read online. Then delicious tried to be the new Pinterest and made itself unusable (although it has since reverted back to close to its original form) and so I switched to Evernote (somewhat reluctantly because I missed the public aspect of sharing bookmarks).   I’ve grown to be quite dependent on Evernote to save my outboard brain. I use IFTTT to post the links from my Twitter faves to delicious which are then imported automatically into Evernote.  I also use IFTTT to automatically backup my Tumblr posts to Evernote, my Foursquare check-ins saved to Evernote (and Google Calendar) and my Feedly saved posts to Evernote. Have I established a system to back up my Evernote notes on a regular basis? No, no I have not (Todo4).

The overarching idea that I have come up with is that the things I write are backed up on my Google Drive account and the library of things that I have read or saved to future reading (ha!) are saved on Evernote.  To this end, I use IFTTT to save my Tweets to a Google Spreadsheet and my Blogger and WordPress posts are automatically saved to Google Drive (still in a work in progress. Todo 5). My ISP is Dreamhost but I am tempted to jump ship to Digital Ocean.

My goal is to have at least one backup for the things I’ve created. So I use IFTTT to save my Instagram posts to Flickr. My Flickr posts are just a small subset of all the photos that are automatically captured and saved on Google Photos.  No, I have not backed up these photos  (Todo 6) but I have, since 2005, printed the best of my photos on an annual basis into beautiful softcover books using QOOP and then later, through Blurb.  My Facebook photos and status updates from 2006 to 2013 have been printed in a lovely hardcover book using MySocialBook.  One day I would like to print a book of the best of my blogged writings using Blurb, if just as a personal artifact.

Speaking of books, because I’m one of the proud and the few to own a KindleDX, I use it to read PDFs and most of my non-fiction reading. When I stumble upon a longread on the web, I use Readability’s Send to Kindle function so I can read it later without eyestrain. I’m inclined to buy the books that I used in my writing and research as Kindle ebooks because I can easily attach highlighted passages from these books to my Zotero account. My ebooks are backed up in my calibre library. I also use Goodreads to keep track of my reading because I love knowing what my friends are into.

I subscribe to Rdio and for those times that I actually spend money on owning music, I try to use Bandcamp. I’m an avid listener of podcasts and for this purpose use BeyondPod. Our Sonos system allows us to play music from all these services, as well as TuneIn, in the living room.  The music that I used to listen to on CD is now sitting on an unused computer running Windows XP and I know if I don’t get my act together and transfer those files to an external drive soon those files will be gone for good.. if they haven’t already become inaccessible (*gulp*) (Todo 8).

For my “Todo list” I use Google Keep, which also captures my stray thoughts when I’m away from paper or my computer. Google Keep has an awesome feature that will trigger reminders based on your location.

So that’s My Setup. Let me know if you have any suggestions or can see some weaknesses in my workflow. Also, I’d love to learn from your Setup.

And please please please call me out if I don’t have a sequel to this post called The Backup by the time of next year's World Backup Day.