Jeffrey Abbott’s Sweet Mac Setup



Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

My name is Jeffrey Abbott. I spend my time writing, editing, and making photographs in Huntsville, Alabama.

I currently work for a large international software company that has a local office nearby. They create plant design and management software, and I write the help manuals. It’s not incredibly exciting, but it pays the bills.

To scratch my creative itches, I spend a lot of time writing, reading, photographing, and helping other people with their writing. Most of my writing isn’t public; it’s just not something I have a desire to publish, and I love the feel of writing with pen and paper.

I run a blooming photography business that I’ve been growing for the past year. I typically create portraits for families and couples, or I work with local media to provide news and sports photos on demand. I’ve also launched an editing service that’s geared toward individual authors called Draft Evolution. I love partnering with writers and helping them get better at their craft.

My wonderful wife is a piano instructor and works out of our home. Our fourth anniversary is coming up really soon. We have two adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniels to look after and make sure we don’t become too busy.

What is your current setup?

Jeff Abbott Sweet Mac Setup

Jeff Abbott Sweet Mac Setup

Jeff Abbott Sweet Mac Setup

My primary computer is a mid-2011 Macbook Air. I usually connect it to my cheap-o 23″ Acer monitor, but I also enjoy using it in my reading chair as a true laptop. The monitor is mounted on an arm that makes it convenient to reposition when I’m working. I’m continually impressed by the speed and resilience of the Air. It’s my favorite computer, and I wish I could use it everywhere. At work I use a company-issued Dell with Windows 7 that weighs about 37 pounds. Even though it’s crazy fast, it still feels slow compared to the Air because it uses a hard disk drive. SSD is the only way to go.

I didn’t know that mechanical keyboards existed until Shawn wrote a review of several. I now have a CM Storm Quick Fire mechanical keyboard that I bought from Amazon. It was cheaper than most, and I wanted to experiment with the genre before spending more money on a nicer one. I love the keyboard, but I keep it at home now because it was annoying my coworkers (sorry guys).

My desk is a large number from IKEA that I dreamed of having for many years while I put up with an extremely small and wobbly desk from Target. The desk is large and immodest, but it’s so nice to spread out notebooks, prints, and electronic devices comfortably when I’m busy. After I make a mess, it all gets cleaned up. I try to dust and polish the desk once a week to combat the dust that a dark colored surface attracts. Some weeks are better than others. I sit on a generic Herman-Miller knock-off from Sam’s Club.

My Sony MDR-7506 headphones are never far away. Since my wife is usually teaching until 7 or 8 each night, I need a way to enjoy my music without disturbing anyone around me. These headphones do an excellent job of that and being comfortable at the same time. I’ve used these since high school when I went through an audio recording and engineering phase. Someone recommended them to me back then, and they’re still some of the best around for the price.

There is always a small collection of fountain pens on my desk. Right now, the current rotation is a TWSBI Mini and a Pilot Metropolitan. These change fairly regularly, but that’s an entirely different post.

For mobile computing, I can’t be without my third-gen iPad and my iPhone 4S. I prefer using the iPad for writing and reading, and the iPhone for communication and in situations where there isn’t WiFi. The iPhone amazes me as a pocket computer, but the iPad lets me work easier and faster. I carry an Amazon Basics bluetooth keyboard that connects to the iPad for longer writing sessions.

There is a 2-bay NAS attached to our Apple Extreme router that holds two 2 TB RAID-0 drives. This holds all of our media and backups of my photo libraries. I have two more backups on external USB drives that I keep in our fireproof safe, but all of our computers are backed up to CrashPlan as well. I take backups very seriously.

I also use a Spyder color profiler for my monitor to make sure the colors I’m seeing are somewhat accurate. I have a USB hub and a CF/SD card reader to ingest all the photographs I come home with.

My wife has a white MacBook that I bought in 2008. It’s had a long, fulfilling life, and it’s almost time to retire it. We also have a Mac Mini that does a great job as a media center for our TV. We don’t have cable TV, so the Mini makes it easy to watch all the things we enjoy. The Mini is also in charge of backing up the NAS to CrashPlan. I’d love to turn the Mini into more of a server that can process mail rules and folder scripts, but I haven’t made the time.

Why this rig?

The Macbook Air was a difficult choice, to be honest. I’m a photographer, and I can usually get by with the minimal power that the Air has for processing large files. But there are some times, usually when I’m working through a large number of RAW files that require small adjustments, that the Air gets completely overwhelmed. I love the computer for the portability — that’s why I got it. When I purchased the computer, my freelance work required me to have a computer with me at all times. News is unpredictable, and I was writing a large number of stories that required photographs. I didn’t have an iPad at the time, so the Air was the best choice for me at the time.

Then I got the iPad.

Now, I just take my camera equipment and iPad, photograph the thing, and then come back home to download and process the photos. The time-sensitive nature of my freelance work is pretty much gone, which means I hardly carry the Air with me. The iPad has all the software I need to do my freelance work outside of my office. It’s incredible.

The only thing I don’t use my iPad for is editing photos. Other than that, I could get by with only an iPad 98% of the time. It’s an incredible computer.

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

I predominantly use my Macbook for photo editing, managing my websites, writing, and discovering music. Here’s a list of my favorite software:

  • Adobe Lightroom 4 for processing, organizing, and exporting my photos to all the various outlets.
  • Adobe Photoshop for the occasional touchup that Lightroom can’t handle.
  • Billings for keeping track of my freelance income and sending out professional-looking invoices.
  • Things for making sense of the craziness in my head. This software keeps me organized, and I’ve never felt the need to jump to a different platform.
  • Spotify for keeping the music interesting.

And here’s a list of the software I use on a more casual basis:

And iOS:

  • I listen to Spotify pretty much all day during my day job.
  • Downcast for all those lovely podcasts.
  • PhotoSmith – I use this app in conjunction with Lightroom to flag photos as keepers before I start making adjustments.
  • Kindle and iBooks for reading.
  • Evernote for keeping track of receipts and things to reference later.
  • Byword for writing while I’m not at my computer.
  • IA Writer for opening .txt or .md files from email. For some reason, Byword can’t do this.
  • Tweetbot for keeping up with Twitter on a regular basis.
  • Riposte for keeping up with App.net. I was using Netbot until I read Shawn’s review of Riposte.
  • Day One for keeping track of my ups, downs, and memorable moments.
  • Camera+ for taking photos and making them look slightly more dramatic.
  • Things for keeping up with my tasks when I’m not at my computer. I use the iPhone app more than anything else.
  • Quotebook for storing lines of poetry, quotes, and other inspirations.
  • Fantastical is my favorite calendar app for the iPhone by far. I will be very pleased when they bring it to the iPad as well.
  • Mail for reading email.
  • Rego for storing places that I want to visit again, visit frequently, or plan to visit. Thanks again to Shawn for this recommendation.
  • Reeder – I don’t use this so much on my phone, but I’m excited about the new version for iPad.
  • Instapaper for reading long articles.
  • Pocket for saving multimedia items for later.
  • Wake N Shake – Never fails to wake me up quickly.
  • 1Password keeps my passwords straight.
  • Simplenote for referencing recipes. I don’t keep any other notes on this service anymore since most of my text files are on Dropbox where Byword can see them.
  • The Magazine is something I look forward to every couple of weeks.

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

My current setup allows me to keep my head down when I’m working on a project. This office is my physical mind space, and it’s very important that I can come in here, shut the door, and get some work done. The vast desk lets me spread out my thoughts and organize things physically when I’m thinking through things. The reading chair allows me to lean back and read a new book or get some writing done. I typically do most of my editing work in the chair as well. There’s something about that chair that lets me think clearly. The dogs also love to use the chair when I’m not using it.

Jeff Abbott Sweet Mac Setup

When I think about being creative, I never think about my tools or my environment. They melt away when I’m focused on something. This environment allows me to do that easily. My previous home office environment and my current “real job” environment are non-conducive to focusing on the work. That’s why I prefer to be here, in my external brain.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I would love to have a new 27″ iMac. I imagine the extra processing power will slice through large RAW files like butter. And that gigantic screen. Mmm. It would also be nice to have Mail, CrashPlan, and Hazel constantly running on my computer. The laptop goes to sleep or gets turned off too often to take full advantage of those scripts.

The other thing I’d love to upgrade is my chair. I have a cheap lumbar support pad on the chair that I’m pretty sure only improves my posture by 0.01%. I use an Aeron at work, and I’d be happy to have one here too. I’d really like an Embody, but they’re just so expensive. Small price to pay for a happy back, right?

I’d love to add more decoration to my office walls. We haven’t really spent a lot of time decorating the house, but I would love to have some visual inspiration on the walls that I can look at while thinking.

For the long term, I’d like all of my computers and needs to fit into one iPhone sized package that allows me to do everything from one small device. I’ll make sure Tim Cook is working on that.

More Sweet Setups

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