What Do You Use to Get Stuff Done?

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Bruce Schneier, security technologist. Basically, I think and work in the intersection of security, technology, and people. Most people think of me as a cryptographer, but these days I do more policy than anything else: security policy, privacy policy, the NSA and surveillance. I suppose that’s the natural evolution of things.

Right now I am thinking a lot about catastrophic risk. Technology empowers, for both good and bad. A broad history of "attack" technologies shows trends of empowerment, as individuals wield ever more destructive power. The natural endgame a nuclear bomb in everybody’s back pocket, or a bioprinter that can drop a species. And then what? Is society even possible when the most extreme individual can kill everyone else? Honestly, I don’t know.

As to what I do—it’s a lot of stuff. I write books, essays, and papers. I speak. I consult. I’m employed by Resilient Systems, Inc., which sells an Incident Response Platform. I fly a lot; last year my average speed was 30 mph.

My latest book is Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.

Basically, I read a lot of words in a row. And I write a lot of words in a row. My setup is optimized for words in a row.

What hardware do you use?

I need to be completely portable. My computer is a Sony Vaio, which seems to give me the best power/weight ratio. It’s a Pro 13, but that’s not important. What’s important is that it weighs 2.5 pounds and has a long battery life—and that it’s not a touchscreen. The screen is pretty big, but I’ve worked on much worse screens to get the weight down. I also carry an iPhone 6 Plus—the larger screen is nice—and a few USB sticks for file transfer and backup. The computer’s power supply has a built-in USB port, and I have a one-inch Lightning cable to charge my phone. I also have the cutest universal plug adapter in the world, that I found in Japan a decade ago. My goto pen is a Uniball Micro, in both black and blue.

That’s it. That’s all I travel with, and pretty much all I use.

And what software?

I don’t like software gadgets any more than I like hardware gadgets. I use Windows 8.1—hate it—and Microsoft Word. Lots of writers tell me I should use Scrivener, but it’s much easier for me to keep using what I know than learn something new.

I still use Eudora for my e-mail (version 7.1, not the one based on Thunderbird), because I don’t want my mail living in the cloud. I’d upgrade to something newer and better, but there isn’t anything newer and better. Sooner or later a new Microsoft OS will break it, and I will be very sad.

If I need a text editor, I use Notepad++. Occasionally, I use Excel. I haven’t used PowerPoint, or any other presentation software, in over a decade. When I give a talk, I do it without visual aids.

Firefox is my browser, with a whole bunch of security plug-ins like AdBlock Plus, BetterPrivacy, and HTTPS Everywhere. Sometimes I use Flashblock, but it breaks too many things.

I use Outlook to maintain my calendar and address book. I hate that program, too, but I can’t find anything else that lets me sync locally to my iPhone without going through the cloud. I use Dropbox when I want to sync via the cloud and to share files, but only for things that I don’t mind losing control of. For backup, I use Beyond Compare and a variety of external drives.

My computer and all external drives are encrypted, of course. I use GPG to encrypt e-mail—but only under duress—and OTR to encrypt chat sessions. I store all my passwords in Password Safe.

My iPhone has very few apps. I read books using the Kindle app. I have a bunch of travel apps: Kayak, GateGuru, Yelp, OpenTable, Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, and several airline apps. I love the Swype keyboard. I use both FaceTime and Skype.

What would be your dream setup?

Anything smaller and lighter, with a longer battery life.

Actually, what I really want is a second screen for my laptop. I want a thin Bluetooth screen that I can sync with my computer and use as a second screen. That would be fantastic, as long as it doesn’t weigh much.

For software, the one thing I have not been able to find is a good to-do manager. My two requirements are: 1) that it works even when there is no Internet, and 2) that I can sync directly between my computer and phone without having to store my data in the cloud. You’d think that would be easy, and yet. I still miss Palm Desktop.

And I would buy a fitness tracker in a minute if there was one that didn’t use the cloud for storage.

Categories: Text, Written Interviews

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.