Dave Caolo’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Dave Caolo, a married father of two, a New Englander and a drummer. I work as an editor and writer at The Unofficial Apple Weblog. I also curate and publish 52Tiger.net.

What is your current setup?

Dave Caolo's Mac Setup

Dave Caolo's Mac Setup

My main computer is a well-worn, 2GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro with a 15″ display. This machine has been in 5 US states and three countries; it’s missing three keys and the bottom is badly scratched. It’s also the most reliable workhorse I’ve ever owned. I’ll continue to use it until it dies or refuses to run essential software, whichever comes first.

When it’s on my desk, it rests in a Radtech Omnistand and connects to a 17″ Viewsonic display, a Mighty Mouse and an old Apple Extended Keyboard II with the help of a Griffin iMate. I back up to an external Western Digital drive via Time Machine. I also use SuperDuper! to create a bootable backup to a LaCie drive which lives in my wife’s classroom Monday – Friday, and comes home on weekends. I back it up each Saturday and send it back to the classroom each Monday. Finally, a 2nd LaCie drive holds “archive” material in cold storage.

Finally, a G5 iMac acts as a media server, storing iTunes purchases and feeding our Apple TV.

Why this rig?

It’s part nostalgia, part reliability and part being satisfied with what I have. When I bought this MacBook Pro nearly five years ago, I was darn proud of it. Just like my father with is 1989 Buick LaSabre, I feel a keen sense of pride in keeping it running. As I mentioned, it works beautifully despite the years of use and abuse, and that’s a testament to the high-quaility products that Apple produces. People balk when they see my computer, but I see an old friend.

Sure, it’d be awesome to own a 17″ MacBook Pro with an i7, but it’s not necessary.

I added the 2nd display years ago when I was spending a lot of time with Dreamweaver, and now I dislike working with one display. I typically keep Colloquy open on the left and a browser open on the right.

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

First and foremost is Safari. I’ve tried nearly every browser I could and always came back to Safari. I spend most of my day writing for TUAW, which I do directly through our CMS, Blogsmith.

Colloquy is another constant for me. My TUAW colleagues and I communicate via IRC all day, and Colloquy is my preferred client. I’ve got it running on my Mac, iPhone 4 and iPad. It’s very Mac-like in its UI and looks great on the iOS devices. Colloquy is our virtual office.

Twitter is also a necessary part of my work day. I use Tweetie on the Mac and Twitterrific on the iPad and iPhone to interact with it. It’s amazing how frequently I communicate through Twitter. It’s completely replaced instant messaging for me and nearly replaced email. When a breaking story hits that we want published right away, the fastest way for the team to communicate is IRC first and then Twitter. I’ve set things up so that direct messages are pushed to my iPhone, so I’m notified right away, even if I’m off doing something else. Email and IM offer the same “bloop” no matter how urgent or silly a message is. Conversely, when I get a push notification from Twitter, I know it’s a direct message that I ought to attend to. I certainly use Twitter for fun, but it’s also become an essential part of my professional life.

OmniFocus keeps my “stakes in the ground” as David Allen would say. I’m one of those annoying GTD guys, and OmniFocus is the project management app that best suits my interpretation of David Allen’s methods. I’ve got a hotkey combination set up to produce the quick entry window and I use it all day long. Also, the iPad and iPhone apps are stellar.

I would not want to work without David Seah’s Printable CEO forms. They’re not software, but they are absolutely essential to my daily routine. Every morning, I grab a fresh Emergent Task Planner and do three things. First, I list the tasks that must be completed by the end of the day. Next, I write “Inbox” at the top of the notes section. Any “stuff” that comes at me during the day that can’t be quickly copied and pasted into OmniFocus (like phone calls, requests from real, live people, etc.) goes there. Then I write “Support” below Inbox. This is free scratch space for me to work out problems, write down reference information (“Width on those images = 720” for example), etc.

Finally, I write my “hours of operation” in the right hand column and track exactly what I’m doing, hour by hour, in 15 minute increments. That sounds insane, but it helps me identify when I’m efficient and when I’m slacking. At the end of the day, I can see that it took me much longer to complete a certain task than it should have, and I can analyze why. Too much goofing around on Twitter, perhaps?

David’s Task Project Tracker is another essential form that I use daily. I subscribe to David Allen’s notion that a project is anything that takes more than two steps to complete. The Task Project Tracker lets me break a project down into its component steps, track how much time is spent on each, tick them off as they’re finished and monitor my progress towards completion.

I often joke that the 8 years I spent as a special needs teacher prepared me for GTD. Part of my role as a teacher was to break educational goals down into empirical, concrete tasks that could be observed, measured and built upon until a new skill was learned. For example, a shoe tying lesson might include steps like place foot inside the shoe, grasp the tongue with one hand, pull the tongue until taut, grab one lace in left hand, grab one lace in right hand and so on.

The work I do today can be broken down much the same way. For example: acquire software, install software, test x, y, and z, compile notes, outline post, write and review. David’s Task Project Tracker, and GTD, is perfectly suited to this.

I also use Simplenote as storage for reference material and Yojimbo to keep research material in one place. Finally, Billings keeps track of any client work I do.

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

I trust it. When you’ve got a trusted system in place, your mind stops bugging you about “we ought to be doing [X]” and lets you focus its resources on the task at hand. I know that OmniFocus and the Printable CEO forms will capture anything important so that I won’t miss it. With that off my mind, I can get down to writing.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I’m less concerned with the look (as my keyboard indicates) than I am the function. What’s most important to me is to reduce friction. When I’m working on “Task A” and something new demands my attention, I want to capture it with as little disruption as possible. I needn’t attend to every little thing upon arrival once I trust that I’ll be able to retrieve it easily when the time is right.

I also enjoy a quiet, tidy room. I rarely work with music playing. If I’m writing I want quiet. If I’m doing something that requires less creative thought, I’ll listen to a movie soundtrack. Clutter distracts me and I can’t have it on my desk. This is making me sound like Felix Unger, isn’t it?

More Sweet Setups

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

Dave Caolo’s Sweet Mac Setup