Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How I Work

So Thomas L. McDonald, the tech-and-history guru of God and the Machine, decided to post a couple of series based on Lifehacker's "How I Work", the other one being "How I Pray", featuring other bloggers. After posting his most recent (as of this writing), featuring The Curt Jester's Jeff Miller, Tom foolishly extended an invitiation to his Facebook blogger friends to write "How I Work" posts

How could I pass up an opportunity to engage in shameless self-promotion? (Except self-promotion isn't one of my strengths; I tend to overdo the false humility.)

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Location: Denton, Texas

Current Gig:
Managing editor, Catholic Stand. Oh — you mean paying gig? None at this writing.

One word that best describes how you work:
Squirrel!

Current mobile device:
HTC EVO 4G Android phone; MID M729B Android tablet.

Current computer:
Compaq CQ5600Y with AMD Athlon II 2.0 GHz processor, 2 GB memory (practically brain-dead by today's standards), 500 GB hard drive, Windows 7 OS; Compaq S2022 series LCD monitor.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
Microsoft Office, specifically MS Word, MS Excel, and MS Outlook; Faith Database; Photoshop and Photoscape in tandem; browser.

Microsoft Office: Besides my personal use, they're the office apps I encounter most frequently when I do work. Since I'm not a hard-core user, I don't do a lot of shopping around or experimenting unless I'm forced to (as I have been recently with browsers). I'm almost expert level with MS Word; MS Excel gives me pretty much all my spreadsheet and database needs; and MS Outlook does alright as an organizer/email tool. I picked up OpenOffice some time ago, but haven't gotten around to playing with it.

Faith Database: For the money, it's a very well-stocked resource for the Catholic writer and student. I find myself pulling it up whenever I'm drilling into Scripture, or need to source a quote from a saint, or have to dope out the Bible version one of my writers is using (one writer jumps back and forth between versions frequently). If I could afford Logos' Catholic package, I'd buy it without hesitation; however, FDB is a good beginner's program.

Photoshop/Photoscape: Maybe it's because I haven't played enough with Photoshop, but there are things I can do with Photoscape that I can't with the former. Photoshop is very powerful but a little user-hostile; Photoscape is like the friendly neighborhood kid that wants to help you out but can't do much because of his size. It doesn't bother me, because I'm used to working with two to four photo apps; I'll even use MS Paint if it gives me what I need.

Browser: Is there one that remains stable and doesn't eventually eat your memory? Right now, I'm slowly transitioning from Firefox to Chrome, but only because Chrome sucks less. However, besides all the various bits of social media involved in blogging and in maintaining my connections, I do a lot of research and use many websites. So going browser-less is not an option.

What’s your workspace setup like?
I'm surrounded — monitor and keyboard in front, with the tower just to my right underneath the card-table desk; printer/scanner to my right; sequencer/synthesizer to my left.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
Using my phone for social media while doing my work on the computer.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
The only one I have is MS Outlook. I also use Google Calendar to coordinate between my desk and my phone, as well as to keep my writers' schedules.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
Korg M50 Music Workstation sequencer/synthesizer. As a pianist, Billy Joel and Sir Elton have nothing to fear from me; but I have fun banging the keys and putting together songs. I won't say I can't live without it ... but my life would be a little more constricted.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I make a killer cheesecake. You have to wrap the springform pan in a sheet of extra-large aluminum foil and set it in a roasting pan with about 1/2" or so of water before you put it in the oven. That prevents your cheesecake from doing an imitation of the formation of the Grand Canyon.

What do you listen to while you work?
Nothing regularly; I prefer silence unless I'm working on a song. However, I'm primary caregiver for my mother; since she's hard of hearing, she has the TV in the living room cranked. So I'm generally subjected to hours of Criminal Minds, NCIS, and the occasional musical on TCM.

What are you currently reading?
In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, by Benedict XVI. I'm also re-reading Stephen E. Ambrose's D-Day: June 6, 1944, which doesn't replace Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day, but rather supplements it.

What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?
Oh, my, what hasn't? I keep thinking of the song from The Mikado, "As some day it may happen", in which Ko-Ko tells us that, among the people he could execute that would never be missed is "the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, All centuries but this, and every country but his own." We could criticize the debilitating effects that our growing dependence on electronic gadgetry have on social interactions, just as we can look at any number of technological developments and see their glass-half-empty aspects. But with all challenges, all dangers, there also comes opportunity; this is actually a time of chairos, pregnant with grace.

One thing I'm particularly grateful for is that the blog arose just as I was beginning my reversion to Catholic orthodoxy; it's so much better than writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper! Blogging has allowed me to make some small contribution to the propagation and spread of the Faith, as well as weigh in on many questions of our time and participate more fully in the public square. So even with the dangers looming on the horizon and the fears I have for the future, I'm glad to be alive here and now.

It's fun every now and again to reminisce about cassette-tape data storage, computers that had about as much memory as a calculator, and 300-baud modems, just as it's fun to laugh about bell bottoms and eight-track tapes. But there's no way I'd go back ... except maybe to catch Led Zeppelin live.