The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

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Ryan North

Ryan North

Cartoonist (Dinosaur comics)

Posted Photo by Zack DeZon.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Ryan North. I write the comic Dinosaur Comics and run Project Wonderful, the only advertising network that doesn't suck! I also co-edited Machine of Death, the book of short stories that went to #1 on Amazon. It was fun!

What hardware do you use?

I've always built my own computers, so I can't point you to single brand name that describes what I've got. At home I've got a 4-headed Intel i7 PC with a bunch of storage space and maxed-out memory. I figure I spend so much time in front of a computer, it's worth having a machine that you're not going to have to fight (I used the same logic when buying a really nice desk chair: no regrets).

It's great because I've got all the monitors on mounts now so they float above the desk and give me room for other things there. One monitor is cramped, two is great but off-balance (one monitor always has to be off to one side), three monitors is terrific because everything's nice and centered, and four monitors is, I admit, a little ridiculous. It should really be five to have everything be centered again, but I had to draw the line somewhere. One monitor is an older Cintiq that I got from my brother and use whenever I'm designing merchandise for the comic and need / want to be able to draw on the screen. It's a lot of fun. YES ALL ARTISTS NEED CINTIQS EVEN THOSE THAT DON'T ACTUALLY DRAW.

This computer used to have parts of previous computers in it (going all the way back to a floppy drive I had when I was a kid) but I eventually got rid of that drive as it was never ever used. It's nice though to only upgrade the parts you need once in a while rather than a whole new computer every few years.

While traveling or at the office I have a dual-book Win7/OS X MacBook that I'm getting rid of soon due to it not actually being very good (don't tell anyone). It's being replaced with a Lenovo T520 with a "Thinkpad Mini Doc Plus Series 3 170W" dock (that's what they call it!) that supports 3 external monitors. I've got to thank my Twitter followers for helping me find a laptop that also supported >= 3 monitors. I may have a problem, but at least nobody will steal my laptop when it's in a room so... heavily monitored.

I had a jailbroken iPhone 3GS till its cell receiver died making it a very thick and expensive iPod, so now I've got a Motorola XT 860 because I wanted a physical keyboard. Guess what, it's kinda sucky too! Crashy, slow software, a camera that takes photos 10 seconds after I hit the capture button, etc. But I feel like the phone I want to buy will be invented and brought to market in 3 years or so, so I'm waiting till then. I don't know. Befriend an Android phone owner, earn their trust, and they will one day confide this secret to you: Android isn't as good as it should be.

Oh! And Logitech's new MX mice are amazing. Comfortable, awesome, and with buttons that make the scroll wheel transform. It's the first mouse I've loved. The fact it's cordless, but you can plug it in as a corded mouse briefly to charge the battery, is brilliant. And it's doesn't use a crazy port either, just USB! Nicely done, Logitech.

What else? I guess I should mention I also got a 3G Kindle which I love and a Withings scale that posts my weight to Twitter, which is lots of fun, but also kinda cheesy because every post has their URL slapped on the end of it. The company said they wouldn't remove it, so, well, here we are. In 2012, your scale will post your weight to Twitter, but with an ad attached every time. Yay it's the future.

And what software?

Software-wise I always install a few utilities (these are all Windows, as that's where I do most of my work)

Ultramon - a must when working with multiple monitors. The keyboard shortcuts for moving windows around are insanely useful. Worth every penny.

Textpad - text editing software that I do most of my writing and development in. It gets out of the way when you need it but has great features like regular expression search/replace (so handy!) and search-in-files, which I use quite a bit too.

Winamp - I've tried a bunch of other music players but always come back to Winamp because it's small and has global hotkeys. I've mapped the insert/home/pageup keyboard group as music controls, so Ctrl+alt+shift+pagedown to skip to the next song, C+A+S+home pauses/plays, etc. It's great to be able to control your music without having to take your eyes off what you're doing.

AutoHotkey - I used to use a program called Winkey, but that got discontinued, so now I use this. It's free software that lets you map all sorts of actions to the keyboard. I use it for mapping things like win+T to open Textpad, win+Q for email, win+W for Winamp, etc. I don't like taking my hands off the keyboard because you lose a second in travel time moving to the mouse, so I try to make things as efficient as possible.

Dropbox - everyone should be using Dropbox. I've got their 100GB option because it's totally worth it. If you are tired of saying "oh no I never backed stuff up because backups are hard" or "oh no I wanted this file but I left it at home" get Dropbox! For bonus points, add a symbolic link in your Dropbox directory to where you save most of your work usually and never worry about losing anything ever again.

The others are pretty routine: Thunderbird for email, Opera/Chrome/Firefox for web browsing, Pidgin for messaging, Steam for all the sweet games, etc.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup is a super-powerful laptop with two monitors (one slides out from the other, both are full size) that has always-on worldwide cellular internet access that won't bankrupt me if I download a large file while in the States. Anyone who's in Canada can tell you that last element may take a while to ever come true. Actually if we're talking dreams, the laptop is so tiny it fits in my pocket and unfolds itself, Transformer-style, to full size. Also, it's a phone. And it can call THE FUTURE.