Reader’s Setup: Adam Keys



Adam Keys makes software, fosters wiener dogs with his wife, collects cool web stuff, and tells jokes.

Adam’s Setup:

1. What does your desk look like?

Adam Keys' Setup

Adam Keys' Setup

Adam Keys' Setup

2. What is your current Mac setup?

I sport the ever-popular MacBook Pro (mid-2008) and 23″ Cinema Display tandem. I’ve got the laptop on a Griffin Technology Elevator stand. My data is kept safe by a 500 GB Western Digital Firewire drive for Time Machine backups and a 250 GB portable drive for Super Duper backups, which I take on the road with me. Music reaches my ears via JBL speakers.

I’m using the wired Apple Aluminum keyboard, which I still enjoy a lot, even though it hasn’t been as good at resisting finger nastiness as I would have hoped. Previously, I used a wireless keyboard and mouse, but the battery swapping was too much of an annoyance, so I’ve gone wired for the keyboard and switched to a Logitech MX Revolution mouse. I’ve been surprised by how much I like the mouse; I use its extra buttons and wheels almost gesturally. In particular, I find the forward/back buttons and the flick-ability of the vertical wheel quite useful.

3. Why are you using this setup?

I’ve tried most of the permutations of these hardware bits, at least the ones you can find on the internet promising to make you a super-productive coding god. While I liked the serenity of just one big display (running the laptop closed), I’ve found it useful to shunt distracting but necessary apps like Campfire and iChat off to the laptop display so I can focus on making stuff on the primary display.

I really love the small size of the Apple wireless keyboard, and thought about getting the wired version of it, but I find my fingers are slightly happier using the full-size keyboard after a long day of coding. I’m also an adherent of Brent Simmons’ philosophy that “every time you touch the mouse, god kills a kitten”. Further, I’d say if you take you hands off home row, kittens are imperiled. So, to the point: I like the discipline imposed by the ever-so-slightly-distant arrow keys. Also, having a number pad is very useful when it comes to things of purely numerical interest.

Now, allow me to go a little far afield from the typical “Setup” format; specifically, the non-computing aspects of my working environs. The desk I have used to have all sorts of bells and whistles: a keyboard tray, a monitor stand, a swing-out drawer and hanging file, etc. Over time, I’ve removed all of those. Now it’s just a wooden working surface and a metal frame. I’ve also sought to get as much off my desk as possible. I’m down to a pen, my glasses, a coaster for the required water beverage and whatever I may be writing on (index cards, a sheet of paper or a notebook). However, a close look will reveal that I’ve yet to do any cable-hiding tricks. I’m still hoping the cable-fairy will visit me.

My second secret weapon: natural light. I’ve got windows on three sides of my desk. I’m not a cave geek and I find it refreshing to look to our back yard, even when it isn’t full of barking dachshunds. My desk faces east so, except for a couple weeks a year where glare is really bad in the mornings, it’s pure bliss.

My third secret weapon: my ever-so-needy orange tabby cat. Sometimes she’ll accidentally move the mouse, but having a pet around is great for occasional workspace distractions.

4. What software do you use on a daily basis, and for what do you use it?

Seeing as how I make software, my bread and butter is a text editor. For the past few years, I’ve loved TextMate. It’s minimal, embraces the Unix philosophy, and it’s an idiomatic OS X app. But lately, I’ve been using Emacs. It’s even more distraction-free than TextMate, its got a great ecosystem of extensions and add-ons and it intrigues my inner language nerd. That said, I’m looking forward to see how the next version of TextMate might advance the art of text editors. Aside from text editors, I heavily rely on Terminal.app and all the Unix bits that make OS X wonderful.

For someone who spends a lot of time building web apps, I’ve got an almost curmudgeonly affection for non-web apps. I still use Mail.app, iCal and NetNewsWire. I prefer Twitteriffic over the fancier upstarts. Colloquy, iChat, and Propane round out my collaboration tools. After a long time on OmniWeb, I’m a Safari guy; I just can’t get past Firefox’s platform oddities.

When it comes to writing or getting things done, I lean towards Jesse Grosjean’s excellent WriteRoom and TaskPaper. If I need to step it up, I reach for Scrivener and OmniFocus. I’ve used MarsEdit for posting to my weblog since it was part of NetNewsWire.

5. Do you own any other Mac gear?

An Airport Extreme, an Apple TV, a couple iPod speaker docks, an iPhone 3GS, an iPod 60 GB, first and second gen iPods Nano, and a 1 GB shuffle. My older Macs are also about the house: a white G3 iBook, a first-gen Mac Mini and a 20″ Cinema Display.

In short, I pay more for good design and knowing things will work well.

6. Do you have any future upgrades planned?

As we speak, I’m transferring my brain from the aforementioned laptop to a shiny new 15″ MBP. Super Duper backups are great for this task!

As soon as I have enough coin, I’m going to get one of the new LED Cinema Displays. I’m hoping that by the time I can afford one, they will either offer a 30″ version or science will have delivered a way to run two displays from a single MBP. I’m also feeling the temptation to run out and get a narrow Apple wired keyboard, but hopefully this temptation will pass.

While I’m wishing, let me make up some things that don’t exist but I really want: gaze-tracking software that controls which window is focused, an editor as sensible as TextMate and as powerful as Emacs, the death of telephony and Skype, and an external version of the Apple laptop keyboard and trackpad. These would all be huge upgrades for me.

More Sweet Setups

Adam’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.