Elizabeth Lawley

Elizabeth Lawley

Professor, School of Interactive Games and Media (RIT)

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Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Liz Lawley, a professor in the School of Interactive Games and Media at Rochester Institute of Technology, where I also run the Lab for Social Computing in our MAGIC Center. When I'm not teaching, building community games and game-based systems (like Picture the Impossible or Just Press Play), or giving talks, I also run the annual Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium.

What hardware do you use?

I've been a Mac user since I got my first computer -- a 128K original Mac when I graduated from college in 1984. These days I'm carrying a 13" Retina MacBook Pro, with a 2.8ghz i7, 16GB RAM, and 1TB flash drive; by maxing out the specs, I can keep my laptops for about three years without running into problems with the software I need to use. My phone is a 32GB iPhone 5, unless I'm traveling overseas, in which case I use a Nexus 4 since it's unlocked and easy to pop a new SIM into. I tend to upgrade my iPhone alternating years, so I won't be upgrading 'til v6 comes out. I've got a 64GB iPad 2 with 3G that I use primarily for watching TV and movies at the gym, or as my portable stereo system at home. I also use it occasionally as a laptop replacement when traveling so I have a wonderful Logitech keyboard case to enable production as well as consumption.

In my office, I have an Alienware M17x that claims to be a laptop, but at almost 10 pounds I'm happier having it simulate a desktop. I keep it on an inexpensive adjustable stand, to create a standing desk environment in my office.

This fall, I bought an HP Chromebook 14 with 4G, and I'm much more impressed with it than I expected to be. There are too many desktop programs (and games) that I need to use for work for this to become my primary machine, but my skepticism about the usefulness of Chromebooks for most people has been greatly reduced. I don't use it a lot, but it's ideal for lending out or making available to houseguests.

In my laptop bag, I have a variety of "can't live without it" hardware accessories, including a Mophie power reserve battery pack for my phone, a Monster Outlets-to-Go with AC and USB plugs, and VGA and DVI and Ethernet adapters for my MBP.

I pulled the plug on cable TV three years ago, and use a Roku 2 HD for my occasional television binges. It's not the latest and greatest model, but it does the job for streaming Netflix, Amazon, and Put.io. I have three game consoles in my living room; an Xbox 360, a Wii, and a PS3, but I have a not-very-impressive 30" 720p TV because I spend very little time on my couch.

I have a Jabra Tour Bluetooth speakerphone in my car that I use for reading and responding to texts when I'm driving. I'm increasingly impressed with Siri's skill at taking dictation (or maybe I'm just getting better at talking to her).

And what software?

On my Mac, I primarily use Microsoft Office for productivity software; I find Apple's suite to be underpowered and poorly designed for serious writers (or number crunchers). I use Google Docs when I have to work on documents collaboratively, but they always end up back in Word at the end for tight control over formatting. I used to use EndNote for bibliography management, but I switched from that to Zotero about two years ago, and have been really happy about that switch.

My go-to text editor for everything from note-taking to code-writing is BBEdit, and has been for a very long time. I've tried switching over to Sublime Text, but familiarity keeps drawing me back to BBEdit.

I'm heavily dependent on Evernote, for everything from photos of whiteboards to lists of frequent flyer numbers to page grabs of grant solicitations. I have a student "minion" who I often task with collecting information on a topic for me and sticking it into a shared notebook so that I can browse and search it whether or not I'm online. I went pro on Evernote years ago, and don't think I'll ever go back -- I love the offline notebooks! (And I have the client software installed on all of my devices -- Mac, PC, phone, iPad.)

My other can't-live-without-it cloud/desktop software is Dropbox. It makes it possible for me to move seamlessly between my various devices, as well as lab computers at school, without ever having those "oh shit it's on my other device" moments that used to plague me. One side benefit of Dropbox for me is that when I'm sharing a folder with others on a project, I get lovely little pop-up notifications on my computer every time they update a file, which lets me know who's working when!

For music I've become dependent on Spotify, because I'm sick of having to copy libraries of music across devices. Nearly everything I'd want to listen to is in their catalog, and when I find the occasional thing that isn't I can sync it from one of my computers onto my account and have access to it on all my devices. Offline playlists are great for when I'm traveling.

For video, I pay for Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. If I can't find it anywhere else, I'll rip a DVD or torrent a file to Put.io and then stream it to either the Roku or my phone or tablet. (Doing it that way means I've never got torrent traffic going to or from my own computer, which is useful for conserving bandwidth, and protecting myself from overzealous enforcers.)

Because I teach game design, I regularly install, play, and then delete a lot of different games. I was a hardcore WoW player for a long time, but that install sits neglected on my computers these days, as my guild (of other game studies professors) has long since scattered out to other games and pursuits.

When my kids and I were living in Dubrovnik (Croatia) last year, we relied heavily on Unblock-Us to mask our IP addresses so that we could still watch the services that we were paying for. We also used Google Voice, Groove IP, and Talkatone to make and receive calls from the US. I still use Google Voice (which I've had since it was called Grand Central) as my "work" phone number -- it makes it much easier to selectively block or allow specific callers at specific times.

On my phone, besides the standard email/social apps, I absolutely love TripIt -- it's a lifesaver for easily collecting, accessing, and sharing trip information. I just forward confirmations to plans@tripit.com, and everything else happens automagically. I'm a casual game junkie, so games like Bejeweled Blitz and Zuma and Sudoku are permanent residents on my phone. I'm always in the middle of multiple books, so I've got the Kindle, iBooks, and Audible apps on everything (and I love that they all sync across devices).

I use the camera on my phone and Instagram every day to post a gratitude photo (#365grateful), and I save those photos in Flickr, as well -- I've been using Flickr since before it was actually released, so it's the obvious place for me to archive images.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm pretty much "living my dream" already... my job gives me access to nearly every tool and toy I can imagine wanting to use!