A Ninja’s Toolbelt
A Ninja’s Sourcer’s Toolbelt is never full – there are always cool new tools to help make our lives as Sourcers and Researchers easier. I thought I’d indulge in a bit of an ego trip like a hedonistic Quasimodo (who reads this blog anyway?) by compiling a list of my most prized tools (*my precious*) I currently use. As always, I’m on the hunt for something better…
Let me begin by saying I am NOT an Apple fanboy. I basically grew up on a PC. Most of my after-hours during school were spent in IRC channels and BBS’ (take that modern day nanny-state Internet access). I’ve been building, modding and using PCs for the past 17 years.
With that said, I recently switched over to a 13” MacBook Pro and I haven’t looked back since. First off, I needed a laptop because Desktop computers are so 2001. But the biggest reason for the leap was because I needed a portable computer that was powerful enough to do some photo editing/design work yet have a decent battery life (i.e. more than 1.5 hours) for when I’m not at the desk, which is pretty frequent.
After much research, I deduced that the only logical step was to take the plunge and switch across to what I initially thought was the darkside… The MacBook Pro has great compatibility with plug-and-play monitors and projects making them ideal for client visits and conferences and yet compact enough for when I’m at home writing sourcing articles in my bed.
My laptop is hooked up to a 24” Dell ST2420L (I say you can never have enough screen real estate) for when I’m in the office and an old 19” BenQ LCD Wide monitor for when I’m at home.
Phone-based research is an important part of sourcing and the tools for it really makes your life easier — especially if you spend half your day on the phone. For this reason, I try as much as possible to use a hands-free device with my iPhone 4. So if I’m not a fanboy, why the iPhone? Well, I needed a device that integrated well with my emails and gave me the ability to use third-party apps.
I’ve used Blackberrys before (email usability is not as good IMHO) and the Android phones have a knack of lagging when you have multiple third party apps installed – the reason for this is that Android phones are open source and their apps aren’t regulated or certified (unlike apps available to Apple devices), anyone can create and distribute them whether their codes were written well or not.
Google, hands down — though that’s not to say I don’t use other search engines. I have to use the others; see why here. But when Yahoo and Microsoft are combining forces just to keep up with Google, you’ve got to wonder what they lack – accuracy of search results, size of their indexed database, and simplicity.
Mind maps are a great way to visually represent your sourcing strategy and allow you to mark off areas you’ve explored as you go through with your search. I began my Sourcing career using Mindjet’s MindManager and truth be told, I’d use it all the time if it weren’t for its hefty price tag and the fact that I now need something where I can collaborate with my team. So for now, I’m using MindMeister. My biggest bugbear is that it simply struggles to handle large maps — visually through clumsy positioning of nodes and functionally considering the time it takes to zoom in and out (i.e. navigate) of maps – the search functionality is almost rendered useless because of this. Not to mention its inability to select multiple nodes or change map style.
With that in mind, although I adore what MindMeister has to offer — freedom, flexibility, collaboration — I’m always secretly waiting to dump webapps for a desktop equivalent or hybrid. It’s not because I’m against the whole SaaS movement or the general shift to the Cloud. It’s more to do with the fact that I’m forced to rely on having an Internet connection (unless I switch to Offline mode… when I remember to) just to use the App which I’ve already paid for. Plus I’m not always going to be working in a location where I’ve got a stable Internet connection! The other reason is that I find that webapps are not as responsive their desktop counterparts (an issue largely out of their control) and when I’m using my browser to access them, it usually conflicts with my habit of using mouse gestures and the keyboard shortcuts.
Despite being a MASSIVE Google fan, I was highly disappointed with the advent of Google Chrome. Yes it’s faster, sleeker, and more user-friendly (maybe) than any other browser out there (contentious) but it lacks one crucial feature – the search bar. Now I’ve ranted about this on many a forums because for me, this has been the biggest let down since AltaVista decided to sell out to cluttering their site with ads (which I think was their ultimate downfall) or when Microsoft released Windows Vista. As such my browser of choice is Mozilla’s Firefox .
To be fair, FireFox has always been my first choice since switching from Internet Explorer *shudders* back when I was still a young Geek, and the only time I truly considered switching to Chrome was when FireFox was very sluggish. However, since the release of FireFox4, I’ve found it to be much faster and more stable (considering I have on average 20-30 tabs open at any one time during research). Internet Explorer, Netscape, Safari, and the rest do not come close in my opinion because they don’t support Add-Ons.
Speaking of… these are the little apps you can add to FireFox or Chrome to make your browsing experience richer. I don’t load too many as it takes up system resources and tends to slow down the browser (as I found out when using FireFox) so I try to limit it to only 2-3 essentials:
- Xmarks – Fantastic for backing up and syncing your Bookmarks between different browsers or computers. The company was running at a loss and almost shut down their services because they couldn’t commercialise their product, but they were recently rescued by LastPass.
- Adblock Plus – Get rid of those pesky ads on the header, footer, sidebar or anywhere within the page and focus on the actual content you want.
- FireGestures – Flick between tabs, go back in your browser, or close tabs/windows with the flick of your mouse. This is a real time saver.
Note that many Add-Ons and indeed all of the ones above are available on both FireFox and Chrome.
These are the killer apps that really help me with productivity. These help me organise my work, business, and ultimately my life.
- Dropbox – Stores files in the Cloud so they’re synced between multiple devices (computers and smart phones) and also accessible through the web. The free Basic account offers 2G of storage, which you can increase by 250Mb every time you invite your friends, up to a total of 8G. (If you haven’t already signed up use my referral link to get an extra 250Mb.)
- Evernote – Paramount for my “GTD.” Stores my notes in the Cloud so I can access and edit them on my computer or on my phone when I’m on the go!
- TextExpander – Excellent time saver for commonly typed sentences, strings, or paragraphs — e.g. x-ray searches, CV searches, email templates, your signature or address, or frequently visited websites so you don’t have to thumb through your bookmarks. This app makes you look like a guru when conducting presentations.
Have some must-have apps of your own? Share them in the comments section below!
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[Image from WayneRenolds]