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2×4: An Interview With Brett Terpstra

2×4: An Interview With Brett Terpstra

    2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

    There is a day in every Apple geek’s life that leaves a permanent mark; it’s a day we all remember. It’s a moment in time where things change, and get better. Tasks that once seemed complicated become easier. You discover new tools that make your work on and for the web more efficient.

    That day is the day you discover Brett Terpstra.

    To discover Brett is to want to learn more about what you can make for your Mac. You start going down rabbit holes that you never imagined yourself going down. For the uninitiated, Brett is the developer of Marked, the Senior Dev at AOL, he is a frequent blogger on both his own site and TUAW and as Brett it himself said, “I create elegant solutions to complex problems.” He also creates exceptionally useful tools such as nvALT and helpful resources such as his library of TextExpander tools. Brett is generous with his time and his creations and even though those of us who are not deeply technical will occasionally find ourselves in over our heads, his creations are useful for all levels of geek, including all of us productivity and “lifehack types.

    Without any further ado, here’s an inside look at how Brett Terpstra manages to do in a week what many of us would find to be impossible in a lifetime.

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

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    Not really, but not for lack of desire.

    My younger brother is an amazing artist; even his toddler scribbles were always fridge-worthy. In my single-digit years, I was a bit competitive and constantly assured myself I was just as creative as he was. It wasn’t true, at least not in the fine arts disciplines, but I maintained a shaky confidence for a while.

    In a parallel story, my father brought home a PC Jr. when I was six. I started experimenting in Logo and BASIC and solving Kings Quest games. I didn’t realize at the time that these were creative pursuits.

    After coming to terms with the fact that drawing and painting were not my fortes, I pursued my technical interests. I built my own PCs, started a BBS and continued programming. I also acquired a used Tascam 4-track, a keyboard and an acoustic guitar and began piling up cassettes full of compositions. Once again, I didn’t really piece together the connection between all of these things.

    I went to college at the University of Minnesota for Computer Science, failed Calc 2 and–for some reason– decided to try art school. I went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a BA in Interactive Multimedia. It was there that I finally came to understand that my technical and creative sides were tightly intertwined; I realized I’d been creative all along.

    What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

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    Computers. My peers often espouse starting on paper, but my creative flow is much smoother when I have a keyboard and trackpad in front of me. I brainstorm in digital mind maps, record in DAWs, outline and build solutions in text editors and design in vector and photo-editing applications. I know that more analog mediums are better for some people, but they don’t click for me the way that digital solutions do.

    If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

    I think an app I wrote in 2006 called MoodBlast would be my pride and joy. MoodBlast was a way to update 6 of the most popular micro-blogging services simultaneously from a HUD you could pop up with a keyboard shortcut. Everyone’s forgotten about it by now, but it was the attention that it received that made me start thinking that some things that came easily to me were less obvious to others. It may not have been the best work of my life, but it was a turning point in my awareness of my own capabilities (and limitations, but that’s another story).

    Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

    I think the takeaway from my own story is that you might not be creative in the areas you initially want to be, but by examining the things you are good at (or at least drawn to), you might find that you’re already creative— and exceptional. Embrace those talents and constantly explore and develop them. All creativity comes back to solving a problem, whether it’s putting ideas on paper or canvas, making physical objects do something useful or beautiful or making bits and bytes ease a workflow???.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

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    I head up the team of developers behind tech blogs including Engadget, The Unofficial Apple Weblog and Joystiq. I work mostly on front-end code and design, and provide a communication bridge between the platform developers and my team. I also develop and support Marked and other Mac applications in my “spare” time.

    How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

    I ran my own business for a few years, freelanced for a bit and have worked from home for quite a while now. The one thing I’ve learned is that areas of responsibility need clear time divisions. I won’t say I’m the best at it, or that I always honor the time slots I set for myself, but when there’s no geographic division between home, work and play, I need specific times–and often physical spaces–to keep things separate. Failing to do so typically leads to an imbalance for me. I’m good at quitting my day job around five, but when it comes to the rest of the day I tend to be less precise. I have a very obsessive personality; I’ll stay up all night working on a project that I’ll often discard by morning. That was a waste of time I could (should) have spent with my family (my wife, our two dogs, three cats and a parrot) and a lack of sleep that will affect my productivity for at least the next 24 hours.

    Creating obligations is sometimes the only way I enforce those separations. I hate flaking on promises, so making plans to be somewhere with someone is usually the motivation I need to stop what I’m doing and switch modes. Even if it’s just a plan to watch a movie in the living room with my wife, it’s usually enough to force that division.

    What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

    I use plain text for a lot of what I do, from writing to note-taking to programming. I even use plain text for certain task management purposes (TaskPaper), but I rely on OmniFocus to handle my overall daily todos. My text editor is the tool that gets the most use on any given day. That’s always been TextMate, but I’m really starting to love Sublime Text 2 as well. When writing, I usually use Byword and always work in Markdown.

    My own applications are often designed to fill a specific need in my own workflow, so a good portion of my toolset is of my own design. nvALT (a fork of the incredible Notational Velocity) is in constant use and all of my projects rely on notes and lists stored within it. Marked is a major part of my writing workflow. Launchbar and FastScripts, along with a slew of my own AppleScripts and shell scripts, fill in the missing holes. Working without these tools is slow and tedious for me.

    As far as techniques go, I’m a fan of the Pomodoro technique. I find it works well with my need for allotted times for specific tasks, and it provides the structure I find important in my time management. A grid to work within. I don’t use it religiously, but whenever I sense the need for it, I pull up a Pomodoro timer (usually on my iPhone).

    What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

    Outlining and planning is important, but it doesn’t really produce anything. I always think it’s going to be the best way to get rolling on a large project, but it’s a “fiddling” stage. I’m not advising against it, just don’t depend on it to help you actually begin accomplishing the work part. The most important step for me is writing the first paragraph, coding that first function, drawing the first lines on a blank page. Then things start to fall into place. For me, outlining and mapping can eventually become an avoidance of actual work.

    I’d attribute most of my own productivity to being fortunate enough to get paid for doing what I love, and often having the flexibility to work on what I’m in the mood for at any given moment. That’s a luxury that I don’t think many people have. If you have the option, though, allow yourself to work on what you feel most motivated to accomplish right now. It’s far easier than concentrating on a task while thinking about another project entirely.

    More by this author

    2×4: An Interview with David Sparks 2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley 2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers 2X4 Interviews 2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead 2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly

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    Last Updated on February 11, 2021

    20 Unusual Uses for Coca-Cola That You’ve Never Considered

    20 Unusual Uses for Coca-Cola That You’ve Never Considered

    Coca-Cola is an adored product the world over. While keeping yourself in good health means moderating how often you enjoy this drink, Coca-Cola lovers will be happy to hear that there are plenty of uses for the soda pop that don’t involve ingesting it. Impressively, Coca-Cola can be used to help you clean, get rid of rust, and even help maintain your garden. Whether you are looking for a way to finally get rid of those pesky stains, or just want to find new ways to love this drink, these 20 jaw-dropping and unusual uses for Coca-Cola will blow you away.

    Kill pests in your garden

    Coca-Cola is also an effective pest control method for your garden. To rid yourself of plant munching slugs and snails, pour a small bowl of Coca-Cola and place it near your garden or flowerbeds. The smell will attract these crawling bugs and the drink’s acidity will kill them.

    Defrost your windshield

    Incredibly, Coca-Cola can also defrost your windscreen in the wintertime. Simply pour Coke liberally across your windshield and wait about a minute. The ice should turn to slush for easy removal.

    Clean your pans

    Coca-Cola is also useful in the kitchen, especially on burnt pans. For any pan with burnt on messes, pour a can of Coke into the pan and simmer. The mess should easily wipe away. You can also soak kettles and other kitchen items in Coca-Cola to remove scale and build up.

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    Clean bugs from your windshield

    Another way Coca-Cola can aid in your car care is by removing bugs and gunk from your windshield. Soak a cloth in coke, then rub across your windshield. Just be careful not to get any on your paint job.

    Remove rust from your car

    Coca-Cola is also useful when removing rust. The simplest method is to dip crumpled tinfoil in Coca-Cola, then give the item a scrub and you should be rust free.

    Loosen rusty bolts

    Similarly, use Coca-Cola to loosen up a rusty bolt. Simply unscrew the bolt half a turn and pour on Coca-Cola. Let it sit, then give the metal a wipe. The bolt and screws will be one hundred percent in no time.

    Remove stains from your fabric

    Surprisingly, Coca-Cola is incredibly helpful when removing stains from clothing and fabric. Coke will easily remove grease stains, as well as blood spots. Remember that Coca-Cola itself is brown, so stains on light fabrics might be better removed another way.

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    Remove oil spots

    Another way to use Coca-Cola is to remove oil stains from cement. Whether it’s your garage or your driveway, soak the stain in Coca-Cola for a few hours then hose off.

    Relieve jellyfish stings

    Should you be unwilling to neutralize a jellyfish sting the traditional way (with urine) pouring Coca-Cola on the sting will also do the job.

    Clean your car engine

    Coca-Cola is also an effective ways to clean your car engine. Believe it or not, Coke distributors have reportedly been a fan of this technique for ages. 

    Use it in cooking

    Coca-Cola is also a fantastic addition to many recipes. Using Coca-Cola to cook pot roast or steaks in will easily tenderize the meat for you. Mixing Coke with ketchup or barbecue sauce also makes for a delightfully sweet glaze.

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    Clean your old coins

    Another way to use Coke to clean is to soak tarnished coins in the soda. About ten minutes should be enough to get rid of the muck.

    Clean your tiles

    Incredibly, Coca-Cola can also be applied to tiles to effectively clean grout. Let Coke sit on the tiles that need cleaning for a few minutes, then wipe away.

    Supercharge your compost

    Coke is also an impressive way to speed up your compost. The sugar in Coca-Cola feeds micro organisms, plus the acidity will help your compost break down faster.

    Remove gum from your hair

    Coca-Cola can also help you avoid a major hair disaster. If you have gum stuck in your hair, dip the gum into a small bowl of Coke and let it sit for a few minutes. The Coca-Cola breaks down the gum, allowing you to wipe it off.

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    Fade unwanted hair dye

    Similarly, if you made a mistake with your hair dye, Coca-Cola comes to the rescue. It’s probably best to get in the shower first, then pour Diet Coke over your hair. Let the soda sit for a few minutes, then wash your hair like normal. This method is effective in removing temporary hair dyes, but will likely only fade professionally applied dyes.

    Clean marker stains

    Coca-Cola is also an easy way to remove marker stains from carpet. Apply a small amount of Coke, scrub the spot, then clean with soapy water. Again, remember that Coca-Cola is brown, so removing stains on white or light-colored carpets might be better achieved with another method.

    Clean your toilet

    Coca-Cola can also help you clean elsewhere in the house. To easily clean a toilet, pour Coca-Cola all around the bowl and let it sit. There’s no need to scrub, simply flush and your toilet should be sparkling clean.

    Feed your plants

    Coca-Cola is also a surprising way to add a little extra life to some flowering plants. Particularly with azaleas and gardenias, adding a small amount of Coca-Cola to the soil can deliver nutrients your plant may be low on.

    Get rid of bugs at a picnic

    The last of our unusual uses for Coca-Cola is to safeguard your picnic or outdoor lunch from pests and wasps. Simply pour a small cup of Coca-Cola and set it out about a half hour before you start to eat. By placing the cup away from your site, bugs will be drawn to the soda and not your lunch.

    Featured photo credit: Omer Wazir via flickr.com

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