Brett Kelly’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

My name is Brett Kelly and I’ve got a pretty full hat rack. By day, I’m the Technical Communications Manager for Evernote Corporation where I split my time pretty evenly between doing web development and writing user documentation. The rest of my time is spent doing freelance web development and writing for my blog. My current claim to fame is being the author an ebook called Evernote Essentials, which people seem to like. I live in southern California with my first wife and our two kids. You can also find me oversharing and making awful jokes on Twitter as @inkedmn.

What is your current setup?

Brett Kelly's Setup

Brett Kelly's Setup

I work exclusively from home, so my setup is a mixture of my professional and personal equipment. My employer-issued computer is a 15″ unibody Macbook Pro and my personal computer is a very new quad-core 27″ iMac. When I’m doing day job work, the iMac pulls duty as a secondary display for the Macbook Pro. The third display on my desk is a 22″ Acer LCD that serves as a secondary to my iMac when I’m doing “evening” work. Up until very recently, the Macbook Pro sat atop a couple of large hardcover books to elevate it to something resembling eye-level, but a few days ago I purchased a laptop stand which hoists the laptop nice and high next to the iMac.

I use a standard Apple keyboard, but have been flirting with the smaller Bluetooth model for the last couple of weeks and may switch to that. When I got the iMac recently, it came with a Magic Mouse that I’ve come to like and will probably adopt as my permanent mouse, but before that was my old Microsoft two-button mouse which has served me reliably for going on six years now.

You’ll also find a smattering of backup drives littered around my desk, as well as a Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanner, which I absolutely adore (and that works with Evernote). Music is a pretty important part of my working effectively, so my gobs of music is output steadily through a set of humble-yet-reliable Altec Lansing desktop speakers that I bought at Staples about a million years ago or my trusty Sennheiser HD 202 headphones (for when my kids are sleeping or my wife just isn’t in the “speed metal mood”).

I have an iPad (the WiFi-only model) that I use around the house for reading things and maintaining my task lists. I’ve done some light writing (read: typing) on it, but it hasn’t really found any sort of imperative place in my workflow. My kids like to play games on it, so that’s cool.

Why this rig?

I’m a complete glutton for screen real estate. Both my work and personal configurations offer me ample space to do just about anything I need, and I always have sufficient room to tile different windows according to the task at hand. I’ve also found it quite awesome that I’m able to incorporate some of my personal equipment into my daytime work, which allows me to avoid having two discrete working configurations and, thus, an obscenely full desk.

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

I spend the most time writing either code or prose, so the application you’ll find me staring at the most is my text editor of choice, Vim (the MacVim build, specifically). It’s insanely powerful and is absolutely great for writing just about anything. Bonus nerd points because Vim is almost 20 years old and it’s still the finest text editor available (unless, of course, you’re talking to an Emacs user). It’s infinitely configurable and scriptable, has an active and vibrant community and is lighting fast. I’ve been using it almost exclusively for about 7 years now and I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what it can do.

As you probably could have guessed, I also spend a good deal of time in Evernote. It serves as my filing cabinet, digital notebook, idea log, photo album, temporary clipboard — all sorts of things.

Everything else:

I’m also a big fan of Keyboard Maestro, Concentrate, Skitch, Dropbox, TextExpander, Path Finder, iStat Menus and MarsEdit.

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

The combination of lots of display space and powerful hardware that can (most of the time) keep up with me make it easy to dig into the current endeavor. When I can comfortably view 4-6 source code files on the iMac and have my browser open on the second display, it requires me to do a lot less remembering. I don’t have to switch away from the current buffer to look up the correct parameter order for such-and-such function, I can just open it right next to where I’m working and see both side-by-side.

I liken my working style to the way my children play with toys: they don’t put away each toy as they finish playing with it (as much as I wish they would), so we have a great big cleanup party each evening where everything is organized and stowed in its right place. When I’m ready to wrap up the current day’s work, I’ll spend at least 3-4 minutes closing a dozen Safari windows, Firefox Downloads windows, Evernote notes and such. I like that I have the canvas and the horsepower to work that way without it getting bogged down or looking cluttered.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I’m pretty happy with what I use, but I would change a few small things, particularly with respect to my current quiver of input devices.

First, I’ve grown to actively dislike the use of a mouse over the years, so I’d love to foster my own fu with tools like Keyboard Maestro to the point that I’d have to take my hands from the keyboard only occasionally, if at all. I’ve written about this in the past and I’ll admit that I’m a little militant in my position regarding “the rodent”, but the problem lies more with my ability to sharpen the metaphorical knife than with the knife itself. Mac OS X is incredibly friendly to keyboard lovers, I just need to quit whining about it and learn more.

Second, I’d really like to get my mitts on another Kinesis Advantage keyboard (which I used for several years but sold because of an obvious mental deficiency). It’s one of those absurdly ergonomic keyboards that looks like a pair of soup bowls lined with keys, but man is it nice once you get used to it. The downside is that you’re basically all thumbs whenever you sit down at a “regular” keyboard, as most of the meta keys that are normally struck using your little finger (Ctrl, Alt, Cmd) are positioned under your thumbs. That, and people seem to be unable to resist commenting on how the Starship Enterprise seems to be missing a keyboard. Oh, and they cost like $300.

More Sweet Setups

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

Brett Kelly’s Sweet Mac Setup