Brett Terpstra’s Sweet Mac Setup

1. Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

My name is Brett Terpstra. I’m married to a wonderful girl named Aditi who happens to be a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, and I live in a zoo (figuratively: a Pit Bull, a German Shepherd, three cats, a parrot and a 75-gallon aquarium… plus the dogs we take in through our Pit Bull rescue).

I have a great day job as a remote worker for AOL Tech, building blogs like Engadget, TUAW and Joystiq. By night I’m a Mac developer, working on Marked, nvALT and other mad science with Macs.

2. What is your current setup?

Brett Terpstra's Sweet Mac Setup

Brett Terpstra's Sweet Mac Setup

Brett Terpstra's Sweet Mac Setup

Brett Terpstra's Sweet Mac Setup

At the core of my anti-minimalist setup are a Mac Pro (2.8 GHz Quad-Core Xeon) and a built-to-order 2011 13″ MacBook Air. I keep a couple of Mac minis around for testing (and nostalgia).

I use an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and a Magic Trackpad on all of my desktop machines.

The Mac Pro is my primary machine. It’s hooked up to 2 monitors (21″ and 23″, mismatched because I never get the timing right when I upgrade them). I boot it off of a 600GB Velociraptor HD, and have additional internal hard drives for multiple OS versions and extra storage. I have a Drobo with a 4TB capacity and a few more terabytes of external Firewire 800 drives hooked up. I have a cheap Buffalo NAS that comes in quite handy.

My office is in the basement (walk-out with a huge glass sliding door that overlooks the Mississippi River Valley), so I have some issues connecting to my Airport Extreme on occasion. I use a PowerLink wifi antennae to get better results, but generally depend on Zyxel powerline networking.

I keep a very paperless office. On the rare occasions that I do deal with paper, I have an Epson Perfection 4490 Photo and the ├╝ber-handy Doxie scanner.

I have an array of musical equipment for dinking around with. I don’t do a lot of audio production these days, but still have an Oxygen 49 keyboard, M-Audio FastTrack, Blue Snowball and a condenser mic on a boom with a Blue Icicle. Desktop monitors, decent headphones, a couple of guitars… enough to keep me entertained. A 5.1 Logitech desktop speaker system covers the bases when I’m just listening.

I also have an iPad 3 and an iPhone 4, an AeroPress, and a bizarre assortment of old X10 home automation stuff.

3. Why this rig?

The Mac Pro is provided by my employer. I probably wouldn’t have one if it weren’t for that; my Air is a superior computing machine for a lot of my needs. I like the dual large monitors, though, and that’s the thing I miss when I go Air-only for a while.

My keyboard and trackpad choice is the result of over a thousand dollars worth of “research” in input devices over the years. I’ve tried just about everything. I actually skipped the aluminum keyboards for a long time because I was pretty sure that anything under $80 was going to be junk, and I skipped the Bluetooth keyboards because I swore I couldn’t live without a numpad. Wrong on both counts.

I went through a few dozen mice and trackballs, too. I settled on the MX Revolution for quite a while, but I started getting RSI and switched to a Kensington Expert trackball. I jumped on the Magic Mouse when it came out, and loved the idea but didn’t get into the ergonomics. The Magic Trackpad took the parts of the Magic Mouse that I liked, made it bigger, better and friendlier on my wrists. In fact, since I started using it I haven’t had any wrist pain at all.

I had used 17″ MacBook Pros for years when the Air came out. It was sexy, but I thought there was no way I could get along without my 17″ screen and extra processor power. Then the time came for a new computer purchase, and something possessed me to take a chance on one. It’s probably the best purchase I’ve made in years. The only other purchase that’s brought me as much happiness is my AeroPress. I’ll probably get another of each as their respective times come.

4. What software do you use and for what do you use it?

So much software. I’m an app junky, and I try everything that I’m remotely interested in. Even some things I’m not. I can actually help you find a good cross-stitch pattern app because my mother-in-law asked me about it and I spent an evening trying a few out. However, what I use every day:

  • Coding: I use four different text editors for various purposes (TextMate, Sublime Text 2, Espresso and MacVim). I’m currently working on consolidating most of my favorite functions from each into Sublime Text 2, but for now I use whatever is most appropriate for the job.

    I use Xcode a lot. I also spend about half my computing time on the command line, and iTerm 2 is the greatest terminal app ever. CodeRunner and Patterns get plenty of exercise, and nvALT stores most of my reusable code snippets and notes. Those snippets and notes are all stored as text files, so I can grep and Spotlight them from anywhere and sync them across machines using Dropbox.

  • Writing: again, multiple answer. I use Byword for shorter pieces, MultiMarkdown Composer for longer pieces with lots of linking and formatting, and Scrivener for projects requiring a lot of organization and shuffling. I’ve been working on adding better Markdown editing to Sublime Text as well, and it’s my default editor for README files and quick Markdown edits.

    I often drop finished blog posts back to TextMate because I have an extensive collection of tools built there for auto-tagging, linking and publishing to my blog. Marked is almost always open because I write everything in MultiMarkdown, and it provides a preview tailored to each document’s destination regardless of what app I choose to work in. My app polygamy is essentially the reason I wrote it.

    I brainstorm in nvALT and use mind maps to organize. I rarely outline outside of mind mapping, but I’m really liking Tree for stuff like that. I use Day One for logging/journaling.

  • Music: For listening, I love Spotify, especially with the new(ish) apps that it has available internally. I use Simplify to control it, which works with iTunes as well to cover my music bases.

    I use Logic Pro for composition, and a few iOS apps for extra keyboards and guitar effects. The current version of GarageBand is not only a great musical scratchpad, it excels at producing finished recordings to an extent that I sometimes never make it to Logic with my home recordings.

  • Task management: I use a combination of TaskPaper and OmniFocus for task management. TaskPaper is for individual coding projects; each gets a TaskPaper file (which I can update and modify from the command line, use with my na script and sync easily with git). Day job tasks and all of my errands go into OmniFocus and sync with my iPad/iPhone.

  • Communications/Other: Adium and Skype are always running, and I find I do a lot of communication over Twitter, so the “official” Twitter app is usually open as well. I’ve tried just about every Twitter app, but that one seems to fill my relatively limited needs the best.

    Twitter has also become a primary source of news and current events for me, and I follow a number of (too many) feeds through Reeder.

    I have a few (ok, too many) extra gestures configured with BetterTouchTool to make the most of all that Magic trackpad surface space. I run a hacked-up version of Proximity to turn my office lights on and off. At any given time I’m running three or four new apps just to test them out.

My software philosophy is “the right tool for the job.” Some of my app choices seem (are) redundant, but often one app feels right for one task while another fits in better elsewhere. My system is held together with portable plain text and Spotlight searches, amongst other tools that make it fluid to switch apps the way I do.

Dropbox, git and OpenMeta tie my multiple machines together. I’m not the person to ask about minimalism, that’s for sure.

5. How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

Maintaining a desktop workstation with a broad range of functionality and a portable setup with a synchronized subset of those apps and scripts lets me work when and where I can be most productive. My creativity tends to wane the longer I sit at the desk, so being able to pick up and go somewhere (anywhere) else is often useful in finding my muse.

Part of the reason I love the Apple Bluetooth keyboards and Magic Trackpad is consistency between those work environments. My keys are always in the same place, my gestures match between machines and the overall feel is very similar between my desktop keyboards and the Air. That removes a lot of friction when switching modes and lets me concentrate on just producing.

6. How would your ideal setup look and function?

Equipment-wise I’m generally always happy with whatever I have, and don’t spend a lot of time wishing things were different. I could probably always be happy with just a terminal, a keyboard and a big screen, as long as I’m able to create the things I want to. I do wish I could keep my workspace cleaner…

As far as “ideal” goes, though, I would love to have a Minority Report/Tony Stark setup. Three-dimensional gesture-based computing is mostly the realm of Sci-Fi at this point, but the technology is rapidly becoming reality. I’m looking forward to the holograph-based iPad being available in time for me to design my Iron Man suit.

More Sweet Setups

Brett’s setup is one from an ongoing series of sweet Mac setups.

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