Talking Tools is an ongoing series of interviews with people whom I respect as creators, communicators and craftspeople. The goal is to dig deeper into how these people work, what their toolboxes look like and how they engage in their own processes.
Today’s victim is my friend and former colleague (during my short stint at TUAW) Christina Warren who now blogs full time for Mashable.com. As you’ll soon learn, she spends a great deal of time at a computer (you’d have to if you’re chunking out about 2700 words per frickin’ day), so I’m super excited to hear more about how she works. This is especially cool because Christina is easily the prettiest person to have taken part in this interview thing so far (although, to be fair, Guillebeau‘s nothing to sneeze at, really).
Crap. Anyway…Please tell my nerdy friends what types of hardware you’re tapping on and looking at these days.
So my primary machine is a 27″ iMac (i7, 12GB of RAM — that’s up from the 8GB it’s had for the last year, thanks to a hot deal at Buy.com) that I’ve been using since late November of 2009. That was my 27th birthday present to myself (a 27″ iMac for my 27th birthday — I thought it was fitting) and as I approach year one, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the machine. It truly is the best computer I’ve ever owned and even though the 2010 iMacs have a couple of features I’d really like (the SSD option and the better graphics card), I can honestly say that it’s probably the only computer I’ve had a year in that hasn’t called to me for upgrades or felt out of date.
The screen is so good, I seriously want a second one. I’m using a 23″ HP cheap-o monitor as a secondary display and it just sucks hard in comparison. A 27″ Apple Cinema Display or a secondary iMac (just to have) is certainly on my wishlist.
While most of my work is done on my home office and on the iMac, I did treat myself to a 13″ MacBook Pro at the end of July. My travel schedule is just frequent enough that I needed to invest in replacing my venerable Black MacBook from August 2007 and the 13″ MacBook Pro is a great machine both for size, power and battery life. Yes, I too wish it had an i5 processor in it, but the fact that I reliably can get 6 hours of battery out of it is pretty much what makes it the shit. For the 13″ MacBook, I opted for the base model, but I did recently bump the RAM from 4GB to 8GB thanks to the Buy.com special.
You’ve been a professional blogger/writer for some time now – what application(s) do you use to type things?
TextMate is actually the primary application I use for 95% of my writing. Brett Terpstra, my former colleague at TUAW, created this amazing Blogsmith Blogging Bundle for us to use and I became so hooked on its power (seriously, the tool saves me so much time — it lets me do searches to link to past posts, easily link to references, even apps in the App Store), I paid him to customize some Mashable specific functions for me when I joined Mashable last year.
I also occasionally write in Word (or Pages, really), but because the vast majority of the writing I do is for the web, TextMate is just a better application, entirely because of its bundle system. What I do is compose my post in TextMate in MultiMarkdown, using Brett’s bundle to save on having to do searches outside of the text screen and with some special formatting tweaks. Then I select a “Prepare Mashable Post” command which converts it all to HTML and adds the correct target to links based on URL and copies that HTML to my clipboard. I then paste that into WordPress and add tags, categories and fill out whatever custom fields I need to fill out and insert images.
When I have to actually type in WordPress without TextMate (very rare), I don’t quite know what to do because I instinctively hit Cmd-Ctrl-W (my bundle extension) to pull up options.
What’s your favorite Mac app that most of us haven’t heard of?
Hmm, I’m not sure how many apps I use would be that unknown to your readers. I think that some of my audio apps are probably less known by most. I’m what I call a reformed audiophile. What that means is that I no longer obsess to the nth degree over sound quality as I used to — but I still prefer to have my music in ALAC or FLAC or at the very least V0 MP3. My home media server has about 2TB of music on it, in various states of compression and when I do my Apple Lossless or FLAC to V0 conversions, I use either xACT or XLD and for CD rips, although XLD will do that, I think Rip (still in beta but available at http://sbooth.org/Rip/) is pretty much EAC for Mac (finally).
Oh, I also think Flux by The Escapers is what Dreamweaver would be if Dreamweaver didn’t suck ass.
Working for Mashable probably requires you to keep pretty close tabs on the latest tech news. How do you do it?
Well, fortunately at Mashable, there are always a few eyes on the news at once. So in Campfire (the system we use for our newsroom), people can pop in links and we can discuss things. Twitter and RSS are my two main sources of information, however. Twitter is great for quick links and Twitter lists are great for breaking news — this is often faster than RSS. RSS is great because I can look down my list of items — I use Fever to see how hot something is.
I also get a lot of information via e-mail. I’ll often get press releases sent out by major companies announcing something big at the same time as they push it out to the wire. Likewise, a lot of my job is talking to companies in advance of their news announcement so I pre-write stories that are then published at an embargoed time. Tips and scoops also come from e-mail.
In terms of keeping up with what’s going on, Twitter and RSS are my two saviors. Until October of this year, I was also working with AMC Theatres on their Script-to-Screen movie blog. For over a year, I was writing four posts a day for Mashable and four to six for AMC. The AMC posts were much shorter in nature, but I had to stay up on not only the latest tech news but also the latest movie news. Both of these areas are EXTREMELY active and I’ll be the first to admit that my last month of work with AMC probably wasn’t the best. I just couldn’t do it anymore and had to focus on my full-time job, which is Mashable.
Still, I do keep up on what’s happening with movies — just not as closely. In my situation, having to manage like 800 various feeds, Fever was really invaluable because I had my movie groups and my tech groups. For movie stuff especially, Fever made life manageable.
If somebody calls you up and tells you in a disguised voice that they just emailed you a super secret internal memo, what program would you use to read the email? Why that one?
Oooh, you know I think I’d use an SSL session of Gmail. I typically don’t use the Gmail interface (all of my domains have mail through Google Apps but I prefer a real mail program like Mail.app or Outlook 2011), but I would use it because if I was trying to be secure, I think Gmail is actually the most secure of the webmail solutions. By that I mean, I think it’s less easy to track your IP from headers and whatnot if you use Gmail as opposed to Hotmail or Yahoo Mail or something else. Or at least that’s what I remember reading in some article about how the Craigslist killer was caught so quickly (he used Hotmail and not Gmail).
Most of us have some little trick we do that, whenever it’s exercised, makes us smile a little. Tell us about yours.
I can do voice impressions. To this day, my best are the female characters from Daria. Sandy, fashion club president, is my best voice. So I can do imitations and that makes me smile. I can also give the finger with my toes because my toes are all kinds of fucked up. Seriously they overlap and are ugly and gross, but I can give the finger with them.
Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kinds of tunes do you enjoy?
I used to but it gets more difficult with the volume of content that I write (I write ~1 million words a year and that’s being conservative) because I can get distracted. I love music, however. Sufjan Stevens’ new album is on my playlist now. But I’ll listen to pretty much anything but redneck country music. My musical taste truly runs the gamut from rock, alt-pop, pop, indie lo-fi (probably my favorite genre), rap, hip-hot and 80s brit rock.
Many of your posts look like they involve a rather incredible amount of research and collation. How do you go about gathering and organizing information for an article?
Once again, TextMate becomes my best friend, and once again, Brett Terpstra has made this more possible. While Brett already made an AppleScript for me that would take all the open tabs in Safari and then turn them into a Markdown equipped reference list (awesome for TextMate), he’s done basically the same thing with his TabLinks Safari Extension.
My typical writing/research process is usually something like this:
I create a new document in TextMate (or commonly, just delete the content from an open document). Then I find my links related to the story that I’m writing. If it’s a news post, it might be the source of the announcement, comments from other news sites, links to past coverage on Mashable (although most of that can be linked to from within my post using that TextMate bundle command) and any other information that I might find necessary. Once all of that information is in one browser window, I just use the AppleScript or Safari Extension to grab the links and then paste them into TextMate.
If it’s a larger and more in-depth post (and I try to do 3 – 4 of those a week), then I do a few things. First, I use Pinboard and/or Instapaper while doing my research. Depending on the scope, I often also use Evernote. Evernote is great for this sort of collation because I can grab web pages, clips and media all in one area. The media element is often key because for features, I tend to create galleries or have other specific media that I’ll need to edit before uploading and publishing. The one feature I still miss from Windows was OneNote. OneNote was my tool of choice in college and while Evernote has pretty much replaced it, I won’t lie — I wish Mac had OneNote.
The great thing about Evernote is that I can add screenshots from the iPhone or iPad. Many of my mobile articles include iOS screenshots and not only can I use Evernote for iOS to transfer screenshots to a folder with other info, I can also do an over the air file transfer this way, which saves time.
Is this the same place you keep articles that are in-progress?
In progress posts are usually news posts and that is almost always just a collection of links in TextMate and open photos or images in Photoshop. When it comes time to actually writing a longer post, the first thing I do is add all the URLs I’m going to reference to a reference list in TextMate and then I go from there. I can refer to the pages or clips if I need to.
If you were trapped on a desert island, which Steven Seagal movie would you want to have with you?
Oh God! You know, I’ve only seen one Seagal movie in the theater — it was Executive Decision — and it was on a date. It was NOT my choice and I was pretty embarrassed for everyone in the film. I kept thinking, Jill Hennessy left Law & Order and she’s doing this? She ended up getting Crossing Jordan a few months later, but still. I think the one redeeming factor of that movie — that even my date agreed was total trash — was at the end, they had this total ad-lib session between Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson that was genuinely funny. Like it was totally off-the-cuff and just ad-libbing and it was great. It didn’t make the other 90 minutes worth it, but at least it made the credits entertaining.
But back to the question — I guess Under Siege.
You’ve just wrapped up a long day of writing, filming and girling and you’re ready to wind down. What type of online recreation do you enjoy and which particular evening beverage would you be imbibing while recreating?
So after a day of being online I have to stay online? I’m going to watch Netflix or Hulu Plus, I’d say. I might play The Sims 3 or something, but in reality I’m just going to watch movies or TV. As for my beverage — I drink mostly soda and water, but I always enjoy a good Mike’s Hard Lemonade, quality Vodka and of course, a good old fashioned Cosmopolitan.
What non-tech, non-film, non-fashion hobbies do you have? Do they involve finding out what the hell happened to Steve Guttenberg?
Wait, non-tech, non-film, non-fashion? Seriously? Well, I’m a huge nerd and I like to read and research stuff on the Internet. Such as whatever happened to Steve Guttenberg (who the Stonecutters apparently abandoned as he stopped being a star a long time ago and these days keeps trying to start rumors of sequels to his past hits like Three Men and a Baby (that one is actually probably happening which is just sad for everyone. I’d think Ted Danson and Tom Selleck had enough money to avoid such embarrassment). I like to read, I like to spend time with my fiance (Grant Robertson of GrantRobertson.com and CNGLabs.com fame), but if I’m being honest, I’m a workaholic and I don’t have that many activities or interests outside of the film/fashion/tech sphere. I’m super boring like that.
Big dorky-ass thanks to Christina for taking the time to talk with me. You can read all of her hojillion words at Mashable.com and you should totally follow her on Twitter because she’s way nicer than most people.
Photo by Grant Robertson