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 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.

Jeffrey Abbott’s Sweet Mac Setup

Patrick Welker’s Sweet Mac Setup

1. Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Patrick Welker from Berlin, Germany. I live and work together with my brilliant girlfriend Maria in a 689 ft² (for the metric reader: 64 m²) apartment.

In our living room slash office we’re both working as freelancers. She’s a 3D artist and I do graphic and web design whenever there’s an occasional job for me.

I’m also a part-time student. My fields of study are English and German. Prior to that I was an audio engineer. Since I’d have to relocate and leave my girlfriend behind to stay in business I decided to listen to my heart which resulted in me staying in the city and starting to study “something which involves reading and writing”.

I let my inner geek out at RocketINK where I write about how I tweak my Mac. Beside that being my number one topic, I have plans to write some more personal and in-depth pieces.

2. What is your current setup?

Patrick Welker Desk Overview

Patrick Welker Displays

Almost all my gear is placed on a large 15-year-old desk. I don’t know the exact model but when looking at the construction I guess it is a safe bet to say that its origin is a Swedish furniture store (hint: four-letter word, all caps).

My main machine is a 2x 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Xeon Mac Pro with 10GB of RAM, and it is connected to two 24-inch Dell displays (model: 2405FPW) which give me enough space to toy around with. The first hard drive bay with the operation system is a 160GB SSD from Intel, the other three bays carry bigger regular hard disks.

I’m a die-hard fan of the wired Apple aluminum keyboard. This particular one is the English version, more specific: the international one with a larger return key and some other minor differences. Oddly enough it isn’t listed in the Apple Store anymore. Furthermore I also own a Magic Trackpad which is placed to the right of the keyboard along with a Magic Mouse. I switch frequently between the mouse and the trackpad. If I feel that my wrist is overstrained I throw my mouse into the drawer for the rest of the day and use the trackpad. Apart from this being my regular setup, sometimes I put the trackpad on the left side of the keyboard just to scroll through documents and use my left hand a bit more.

Patrick Welker Portables

My secondary Mac is an 11-inch MacBook Air (1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM) which I tend to neglect when I’m at home and not working on the Mac Pro. My 32GB third-generation iPad is now the undisputed champion of the living room and gives the MacBook a hard time finding the attention it deserves. When my iPad is resting it sits on the Compass stand from Twelve South. The daring position of the Compass is on the left edge of my desk… and so far my iPad took the plunge “only” once. Terrible, I know.

The following are my additional gadgets for the iPad: (my girlfriend’s) Maglus Stylus, an old $5 pogo stylus, a black leather Smart Cover, a Havana smart cloth from Toddy Gear and a Tabü tablet poüch to give the iPad some extra protection.

When I’m on the road I use a messenger bag to carry my MacBook and iPad. I choose to go with the Ristretto from Tom Bihn (link to successor) despite the high shipping costs and customs tax that are due when importing something from the United States. The bag is equipped with the fantastic Absolute Shoulder Strap and a lot of their nifty pouches and leashes. Ninety percent of the times when I leave the house I travel with my bike, and due to Tom Bihn’s Guardian Dual Function Light I feel a lot safer when riding in the dark.

In case I’m not on one of the above mentioned devices my right hand becomes unusable for common tasks. You might think this is because I’m such a reasonable person and finally give my hand some rest, let it calm down after the heavy duty mouse and keyboard work it endured. Far from it! It’s unusable because it automatically grabs my 32GB iPhone and merges with it. I have the theory that this is a widespread disease. By the way, my phone is wrapped in a BookBook case. Despite the fact that I love the look and feel of a naked iPhone (after all it’s a beautiful device), for me the sheer practicality of the case justifies adding a bit of bulk.

Patrick Welker Audio Gear

Now we come to the relicts of my activity as a producer. First there are my beloved Dynaudio BM5A studio monitors (“monitors” is the term used by audio engineers to refer to their speakers, and, by the way, the link points to the successor). Secondly, my current Mic setup consists of an AKG C 4000 B Studio (a condenser microphone) and the Shure SM58 (a dynamic microphone).

Next, my midi-controller is a Novation ReMOTE 37SL and the audio interface of my choice is a RME Fireface 400. Finally, the last part of my audio gear are three headphones: a Philips SHP8900 for listening, an AKG K240 Studio as my personal reference monitor and a Sennheiser MM 550 Travel (link to successor).

Lastly, there is just enough room for one more gadget on the desk: my old Wacom Intuos 3 (6×8).

Below the desk

On the lower surface of my desktop is a EXSYS EX-1177 USB 2.0 HUB with 7 ports. It is connected to my equinux TubeStick and all things USB. I label all cables going into the hub by writing the name of the gadget with a felt marker on a piece of crepe tape.

Beside my Mac a drawer unit is also placed under my desk. In the first drawer are pens and chargers to my various gadgets. Additionally, to have my Tom Bihn pouches close at hand the second drawer is solely reserved to them. On top of the drawer is a power manager from Brennenstuhl with one main switch and 6 separate switches to selectively toggle my equipment on and off. My cable modem, WLAN router and an ICY DOCK ICYCube sit on top of the power manager.

Health Appliances

Health Appliances

The last part of my setup is what I call my health appliances. Strictly speaking they don’t belong to the setup, but I regard them as important components of my work, that’s why I decided to include them here.

When you live and work all day long within a tight space and share it with another person, my belief is that the room you choose needs to have a feel good atmosphere. Moreover, if it is a home office you have the permission to go nuts. To conclude, for me this means transforming my workspace into a whimsical little world with a touch of kawaii.

On the wall in front of me is an empty yellow picture frame to which I added a red curtain with a floral pattern on the upper side and a wooden shelf on the bottom. On this shelf is the DVD, the excellent soundtrack and a cinema ticket from one of my favorite movies. Since there is still some space left to fill with cuteness, I put a few anime figures (i.a. from Azumanga Daioh) and a plant. The lower surface of the shelf is covered with artificial turf and little flowers (the latter are hard to spot on the photo).

Below this frame is my illuminated “cave”. A Philips Living Colors lamp was one of the best investments I made so far for my workspace. It might sound stupid to say this about a lamp, but it really increased my quality of life — it literally brightens my day. No wonder they call it a mood light.

The surface of the cave (again) consists of artificial turf and there’s a Living Colors Mini on the side of it. On the turf my MacBook rests and charges along with a Stache Labbit from Frank Kozik, another plush rabbit my girlfriend made for me, a branch, a raccoon figure, Ollie and lastly a plush carrot and a marzipan carrot for the rabbits because they always look hungry.

To the left of my desk is a window bench where a little bowl with an forrest inside of it and some animals is placed. I grew up on the countryside and miss mother nature from time to time, so my girlfriend did some handicraft work and made me this present.

Other health related gadgets:

  • My relatively okay office chair is from Tchibo, a German coffee company which apparently also sells a of lot other things.
  • A Thera-Band Hand Exerciser with an egg shape to fight my arthritis.
  • A Powerbar 2 which I use every time I feel drained.
  • An Aqua Select Water Filter because I drink about 1.1 gal (4,2 liters) a day.
  • Some plush animals who occasionally visit the office. Yeah, I’m about to turn 32. So what? I’m a child at heart.

The last piece of equipment on my list is our printer-scanner-fax Swiss army knife — a Samsung CLX-3185FW — which is located in the storeroom. It barely gets used since I work pretty much paperless.

3. Why this rig?

Here’s the short story of how I came across my gear.

The Big Mac

I bought the Mac Pro for two reasons. The first reason is that my Power Mac G5 was one of the loudest computers I ever owned. It was terribly nerve-racking for me and all of the smaller audio samples I recorded had the Mac’s omnipresent background noise as a feature. I even bought a soundproof cabinet to tackle that problem. The second reason was that the Mac Pro can take up to four hard drives. I needed a lot of space for storing my audio material and USB or FireWire 800 wasn’t an option for me at that time. The CPU power and the amount of RAM were also pretty helpful when running multiple instances of a demanding plugin in Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and Logic Pro.

However, now my daily work is writing, reading, coding and designing. I don’t necessarily need a Mac Pro for this kind of work, but since the machine is already here and is still an excellent computer, I see no real need to replace it anytime soon (except if Apple decides to stop supporting it when they release the next version of OS X).

Peripheral Computer Devices

I use an English keyboard because it’s part of my “all-in” language learning strategy. Despite German being my native language I write down everything in English. Besides that, I also wanted to try if the keyboard layout is a better fit for writing code, and so far I’m more than happy that I took the plunge. Although it took quite a while to reroute some hard-wired movements to their specific new counterparts on the keyboard. Another thing I have to admit was, that at first I was a tad bummed out since I accidentally bought the international version on eBay. But, I soon realized it was a fitting choice because thereby I gain consistency over all my Macs: for the MacBook I just had to order some keyboard stickers and henceforth all the keys are in the same place again. This wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

The second monitor was an heirloom from my father who moved on to an iMac. I was quite happy with one 24-inch screen, but having two displays opened up a whole new world for me. The result is that I’m now really lazy when it comes to managing windows on the Mac.

The ICYCube has room for 4 hard drives just like the Mac Pro. I searched for a simple multi-bay enclosure and tried quite a few. Since I didn’t need a fancy RAID setup and all I wanted was to slide in the hard disks I already own. This piece of equipment met my criteria perfectly, if I exchange an HD on my Mac Pro I buy a new drive tray for the ICYCube and gain another backup drive. Indeed the enclosure works as my backup solution. At the same time it’s the place where I have stored all my unedited home video recordings which I might not come to edit in a lifetime since I pay way to much attention to details (also I’m not very fast when it comes to editing videos). The downside of the enclosure: it’s pretty loud if you don’t remove the fan. Then again I only fire it up once a week to copy over the backups from my Macs.

Let’s talk USB for a second. I’ve had trouble with Apple Computers and their USB ports for my whole Apple life (since 2005). I’ve always had a lot of audio equipment connected to my Mac via USB. The Mac’s power supply unit could never satisfy the energy-hungry battalion it was faced with. Even on my 2009 Mac Pro the USB ports began to fail until out of six ports only 3 working ones remained. The best investment I’ve made is an industry USB hub — it’s the one and only hub that I tried which delivered enough power (and I tried quite a few). The hub I use is from a swiss company, EXSYS. They offer excellent products in this segment of modern technology. My hub has 4.5 A which is more than enough. Every port gets up to 500 mA. All my devices work properly for the first time.

Regarding the Wacom tablet I have to admit that I neglect it carelessly. My girlfriend borrowed it over the last few years and it just has returned into my possession since she bought herself a Cintiq for Christmas. I have nothing else to add to my defense.

The Little Apples

I ride my bike a lot during the week. Be it my route to the University, or, more rarely, visiting a client. If you have carried a laptop before you know that you feel every ounce of it after a few blocks. The 12-inch PowerBook was my favorite portable computer, but the tiny 11-inch MacBook Air is like a dream come true and it instantly pushed the PowerBook off the throne. It’s so small, slim and light that I can take it with me everywhere I go, and in addition I don’t feel like I’m carrying any additional weight. It is amazing that this is not a toy but a full-fledged system for web development and graphic design work. Also, I still prefer it over the iPad when I’m on the go and want to write something. Using an iPad at the University isn’t an option for me because I need to switch between a (digital) book, references and notes all the time. Having two windows open in split view is a great help and the full-sized keyboard is ideal for lectures where I take a lot of notes. Being able to watch and listen while writing down everything in a blind flight over the keyboard is not possible with an iPad (at least not without an external keyboard).

I still take my iPad with me to University on days where I know I don’t need to write down a lot of information. On those days the MacBook is allowed to stay at home. However, where the iPad shines in my opinion is when working with clients. I prefer to take my iPad with me to them rather than the MacBook because it’s nice to pass it on to people. They instantly know how to use it and get a better feel for how the product they’ve ordered will look and work like.

Since the retina iPhone was released in June 2010 I knew that Apple would come up with an iPad featuring a similar display. So I decided to wait because I don’t wanted to use a phone or tablet on a daily basis which lacks such a stellar display. In March 2012 the wait was over. I couldn’t afford it at that point in time, but finally managed to buy one… shortly before the released the fourth-generation iPad — didn’t see that one coming. For me the iPad is the best device for reading and learning in existence. If I find an elaborate tutorial on the internet I usually save it and read it on my iPad.

Back to the iPad’s little brother. I bought the iPhone 5 because the iPhone is the device I use most religiously out of all my gadgets. Since Apple changed the form factor — which they presumably keep for a while — I felt it was the perfect time to update from my old iPhone 4. I use my phone constantly for all kind of tasks, but here’s a small list of where it has proven to be most helpful to me:

  • snapping a picture
  • reading feeds and Instapaper articles
  • as a reference book
  • as a companion when working out
  • relaxing
  • communication

The accessory that is always with my phone is the BookBook case. It is the ideal choice for me since I always forgot my wallet at home. The purchase has paid for itself: I haven’t had an embarrassing moment at the local grocery store’s counter since I own the BookBook. Everything important is where I iPhone is. My iPhone is at my side 24/7.

My Audio Gear

This is a short one. My current setup is the result of a compromise. At the same time I started my studies at the university I moved in together with my girlfriend into a smaller apartment. My complete rack wouldn’t have fitted into the new tiny place. I sold almost all my gear to pay the rent for the upcoming months. Since I always had a passion for graphic and Web design and worked as a freelancer in that field while studying as audio engineering my new economic center shifted. (I still miss part of my gear.)

I kept the microphones because they barely take up any space. In addition I only own one audio-interface now. It’s from RME. They are famous for their excellent analog-to-digital conversion. You get one of the best conversions you can buy for money — naturally it’s a keeper too. Another thing I couldn’t bring myself to part with were my speakers. In spite of using headphones almost all the time because my girlfriend doesn’t listen to such a wide variety of music as I do while working, it’s still good to know that I could cause a medium-sized earthquake with the speakers if I feel like it.

Lastly, I decided to order a smaller keyboard to at least leave the possibility open to produce a little bit in my spare time. Sadly I only managed to make one track per year since 2008. To look on the bright side of things I really amped up my front-end web design skills in that time.

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

There are so many great Mac apps out there in the wild and currently 465 of them are in my applications folder. Here’s a selection of the ones I use most on my Mac:


  • nvALT is my storage for text and code snippets, links to references, general references, lists and TaskPaper documents. It’s constantly open.
  • FoldingText is my go-to writing application. I just love the clean look, that it auto-formats Markdown and the possibility to fold sections.
  • When I’m writing longer articles or take-home exams I switch between FoldingText and MultiMarkdown Composer.
  • Since I write in Markdown all the time, no matter what, I often have Marked running to preview my documents.
  • I’m also a fan of outlines. OmniOutliner Pro and Tree are often starting points for more elaborate projects.
  • When writing research papers for the University I use Pomodoro because if I don’t I have trouble focusing on the job at hand.


On the Mac I use the Google Reader web application to read my feeds. I haven’t yet looked for an alternative for when the service shuts down. I might end up finally using the Fever installation I set up a while ago or even go back to NetNewsWire.

When I read on the Mac it’s usually in a browser. Google Chrome is my browser of choice. I’m a heavy Pinboard user and Chrome extensions are my favorite way of adding and searching my bookmarks.


When I code a website I use Coda 2 since it has smart features I still miss in other editors. I find it most helpful that Coda remembers my open tabs on a per project basis. Even more important, it remembers the split tabs where I grouped documents that are interacting with each other. It’s a great feature that I specially enjoy every time when revive an old project.

To preview websites on my mobile devices I use Adobe’s Edge Inspect and LiveReload.

To store tutorials, references, books about web development and sites that inspire me I use Together. What I like about it is that it doesn’t use a single database file. I can drop files into specific folders and they automatically get tagged when I open Together.

If there is something to code and it is no website, then my favorite editor is Sublime Text 2 — if it would remember the split sets like Coda I’d instantly switch to it since it’s so highly customizable.

I also use Tower for managing my git repositories. Terminal and iTerm apps companions for my way through the shell.


I’m paying Adobe to let me use their feature rich programs aka Photoshop and Illustrator.

To optimize images for the web I use JPEGmini and the hand-made ImageOptim I wrote about in my blog.


When it comes to listing I’m still undecided whether to stick with Rdio or Spotify. Both have drawbacks and great features.

For composing I use Ableton Live and Logic Pro with an armada of plug-ins and virtual instruments.


  • Path Finder and Finder help me manage my files
  • Sparrow is my default mail client.
  • TaskPaper, GeekTool, and OmniFocus build my GTD setup. OmniFocus is the main brain which keeps me from forgetting tasks. I prefer the Mac version over both of the iOS apps in terms of swiftness when it comes to organizing tasks.
  • 1Password is another application which is constantly open. I like to try a lot of new web services.
  • Dropbox keeps the main part of my system — be it files or preferences — in sync across all my Mac’s.
  • I use iStat Menus to keep an eye on my SSD’s disk space and my memory.
  • With myPhoneDesktop and DropCopy Pro I send files to iOS. Since my girlfriend is still running Snow Leopard, DropCopy is our go-to app for sharing files or links with each other.
  • CloudApp is my favorite app for sharing Internet finds with my friends.
  • Fantastical is the best way for me to get an overview of important upcoming events. It’s also the best way to add them to my calendar.
  • Aperture is my database for all personal photos.
  • Growl, Alarms, and Due to remind to exercise, making a pause and to sit straight.
  • And… I use Keyboard Maestro for everything!

iOS — Work:

On my iPhone and iPad I have about 350 apps each. A lot of them are tucked away in a folders. I keep barely-used applications around for easy access in case I really need them. A good example for rarely-used apps would be all the ones that are specific to my home town. On the iPad, however, I don’t have a lot of these specialists. But I have more folders with apps that I haven’t checked out yet. In any case, here’s what I use on a regular basis.

I write in Drafts despite preferring the Markdown toolbar of Scratch. The iPad version of Drafts has one, and I’m still hoping that the iPhone gets one too some day.

If I need to make corrections to a post I open Byword and edit the post. And while we’re at the blog, sometimes I have to open Prompt to analyze a problem or restart my Jekyll blog.

The header images for my blog are drawn in Paper. I love its ease of use, the app is also the starting point for all of my mockups and general ideas for websites.

When I need to share files with someone I use Dropbox, ClouDrop for Cloudapp, or ClouDrop for Dropbox by TouchMyPhone. If I want my screen shots on my Mac I use PhotoSync since it’s faster than waiting for iCloud to sync the files in question.

For research I have couple of apps that most folks will be familiar with: Pinbook and Delitouch iPhone for browsing Pinboard, Tweetbot, Bang On, and Google Chrome.

In addition, I always have my iPhone at hand while reading — if there’s a need to clarify something I open up one of my Dictionaries. I have a couple for different purposes: linguistics ones, literature specific ones, and one for every coding language.

My RSS client of choice is Reeder on the iPhone and Mr. Reader on the iPad. If I find something I like to act on or would like to link it goes into Pocket, and if it’s a longer read I send it to Instapaper — both of these apps are jam-packed to the point that I doubt I can ever catch up with everything in there. If I’m about to continue working on another device I open the article in question with Google Chrome to ensure that I can resume where I left off.

Apart from reading feeds I also like to read books on the iPad. I collect them in my Dropbox and import them into iBooks via GoodReader or DropCopy. If it’s a shorter PDF I read it directly in GoodReader.

When I study for a test I use Flashcards Deluxe. I have a macro which formats a Markdown document of my study notes into the format that the app reads. The macro also puts the file into my Dropbox. All I have to do is to import the file and start learning.

Beforehand I admitted that I barely use my scanner. I digitalize University or office documents most of the times with Scanner Pro and send them directly to my Dropbox.

While we’re still in the category of work related apps that I use most frequently, there are some classics that are hits on the iPhone for a reason. These ones are on my Homes creen: LaunchCenterPro, OmniFocus, Sparrow, 1Password, Fantastical, and the TomTom navigation app.

I mentioned in the beginning that health plays a big role for me when it comes to work. Here’s one of my shorter morning rituals and the apps I use with it: my day starts with two glasses of water, then I put my bluetooth headphones on, fire up Spotify and select some relaxing music for my Yoga exercises. Repeat Timer Pro is the best app I found so far for basic interval training.

To conclude this section about apps I use for working, I also want to end with Spotify since music can increase creativity and help to focus better. I often use my iPhone or iPad to play music instead of my Mac. Unlike the Mac version of Spotify the mobile app doesn’t chuck away on my upload stream. I send the audio signal to Airfoil Speakers on my Mac and I’m good. Furthermore, to focus while studying I have a binaural playlist on Spotify and this little collection of apps: Attractor, MindWave 2, and some AmbiScience apps.

iOS — Everyday Life:

My smartphone has alleviated my everyday life, that’s for sure. Here are some key aspects where I find it utterly useful:

Notesy is one of the most important apps on my phone. Everything that’s inside of nvALT is also in Notesy, for instance when I plan to cook something new I save the recipe in my notes folder and have the Markdown preview right in front of me. I have an array of Due timers for cooking and baking.

If I’m not working it is highly likely that I have my headphones on and listen to a podcast via Downcast or even better, an audiobook (I’m a sucker for audiobooks).

The iPhone is also my main camera, so Camera+ and the default camera app are on my Home screen to make sure I can easily access them any time. I sold my regular cameras because the iPhone suits my needs just fine. I’m the point-and-click guy when it comes to capturing moments, and it’s enough for me.

Another thing I like to do on iOS is to remote control my Mac with Keyboard Maestro Control or iTeleport. Most of the time it’s nothing important but it’s a nice feature I like to use when I’m on the couch.

The last big point where the iPhone shines for me is it helps me to keep track of…

  • my lists with Listary;
  • cartoons and series I’m following with iTV Shows;
  • movies I want to see in the cinema with TodoMovies (side note: I hope to see a Letterboxd app some day);
  • apps that I want to buy with AppShopper;
  • the weather with WeatherPro (which has proven to be the most reliable app for Europe, but not the most beautiful), and RainAlarm (since there is no Dark Sky for Europe).

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

At some point in my twenties I suddenly realized that I had back pain many a time, that I gained some weight, and that my mood swings were in fact a full-grown chronic depression. It was obvious that I couldn’t perform my best under these circumstances.

To fight all of the above I started to do Yoga along with some other exercises, to eat more healthy and to create a work environment which makes me happy. In the last 5 years I managed to drop the extra 22 pounds (10 kg) I gained beforehand and developed an interest in cooking which revealed that one’s own kitchen can serve better food than 90-percent of the restaurants in the close vicinity. These measures lead to fewer periods of depression which I’m very thankful for.

If you work on a desk with a monitor in front of your face from dusk till dawn, then time truly flies. I get easily distracted; I even managed to ignore my own health. By taking breaks and exercising I find myself to be more cheerful, recharged, and overall a bit healthier. It’s a wonder by all the optimizations I made to tweak my operating system that it took so long for me to recognize that my body’s “OS” also was in need of more organization and maintenance.

My point with the 3 paragraphs above is that a healthy body is the only way for me to not drop into a hole of darkness. My other tactic to reduce the likeliness of such a thing happening is to surround myself with stuff that makes me happy. That’s why I called the constituents of my playful environment “health appliances”.

To keep this system running, a good part of my setup consists of different ways to remind me to eat, exercise, and take a break. I change those reminders regularly so that I don’t get too accustomed to one set, otherwise I would sit on my Mac non-stop and forget everything around me. I don’t know the feeling of being bored when I’m in front of one of my gadgets. Combined with decent internet access they work like a creativity accelerator for me. I always find stuff to do and have a variety of lists where I gather different creative projects.

The Mac and iOS devices do a splendid job at reminding me of my goals and showing me what I could and should do next. The only glitch in the system is me, since it’s me who sometimes ignores the good advice and gets lost in a side-project.

6. How would your ideal setup look and function?

A 13-inch MacBook would be sufficient for me to get things done — I’ve worked with one for years. But since I’m allowed to dream a little bit, here we go:

I would love to trade in the two 24-inch displays for one larger retina display. I hope Apple has something in the pipe to can make the Retina Cinema Display work over Thunderbolt — from what I’ve read Thunderbolt could be the bottleneck there.

Particularly with regard to the high energy consumption of the Mac Pro in combination with the two monitors, I can imagine a more lightweight solution. My number one requirement would be a retina display — be it an iMac or a MacBook with a large retina Cinema Display. The next technical condition would be a multi-bay enclosures that is silent, affordable, and fast (think Thunderbolt) to make up for the 4 drive bays which I would leave behind. I just don’t see the latter three conditions happening at the moment.

Speaking of gadgets, here are some more realistic purchases I plan to acquire. I think an Adonit Jot Pro might do a better job when writing things in the Papers app, and another nice addition to my setup would be the Twelve South PlugBug World.

Besides the above mentioned, switching to a lightweight setup feels far away. Some of my gear speaks another language: my MacBook’s display for instance. The right side on my smallest Mac is malfunctioning — it flickers like crazy. Sooner or later the computer needs to get replaced. The next defect device is my bluetooth Sennheiser. I dropped it on a marble floor because the carabiner with which I attached it to my Ristretto bag snapped open while I was fumbling in the bag. I was toying with the idea of switching the brand. The problem is, I only know of one pair of bluetooth headphones that has no problems switching between multiple bluetooth devices, but it isn’t on par with the Sennheiser quality-wise. So my wish would be a good set of headphones where switching from the Mac to my iPhone or iPad is effortlessly possible. Luckily Airfoil exists and so I will swallow the bitter pill and send in my Sennheiser as soon as I have enough cash to pay for the costly repairing.

Since I talked keyboards before, if I were to buy a new MacBook, this time I would order one with a genuine US English keyboard. And in addition, after reading about Brett Terpstra’s switch to the bluetooth aluminum keyboard here on the Sweet Mac Setups, I can picture myself trying to make the switch to a bluetooth keyboard for my desktop Mac too. I was afraid that I would miss all the lovely extra options for additional shortcuts which a numeric keypad provides, but there are other ways to work around that. A bluetooth keyboard would also work great with the iPad.

The last item on the wish list gadget-wise is a NAS. I’ve being comparing the pros and cons of a NAS vs. a Mac mini lately, and at the moment a NAS server from Synology has the best chances to be one of my next investments. Okay, since this part of Sweet Mac Setups is encouraging dreaming it would be a NAS at home and a Mac mini from (which I just can’t afford anytime soon) to have my own powerful server.

That’s about it for the gadgets. In terms of a better workflow I wish that I’d already have a more automated way to post on my blog. On the Mac it’s already happening, but my goal from the beginning was to make it work with the iPad too. I’d like to send my drawings from the Paper app to my (shared) server. Federico Viticci’s has a crazy cool Pythonista workflow, and I hope to get there too. On the server the images should get optimized, filed into my upload directory and the corresponding Markdown image links should be appended to a scratch file.

Another workflow issue I have is when I write something for University. Sometimes Markdown doesn’t cut the chase. Here, with all the footnotes, citations, annotations and references Pandoc sounds like the better solution. I definitely have to look into it (… and Scrivener).

There’s also an application wish I have had for a long time: Listary for Dropbox. I’d like to keep everything that closely resembles a note inside my nvALT folder and I still haven’t found a better list app than Listary.

Lastly, some enhancements for my work environment: I want some nice graffiti for the concrete bricks on my desk.

Almost all of the above is not really important. Like I stated in the beginning. A 13-inch MacBook is enough to get the work done. But there are things that would be great long-term investments. By far my biggest wish is a fancy desk which is adjustable in height so that I can switch from working in a chair to working on a standing desk. The best thing I come across so far is the Anthro Elevate Adjusta (check out this YoutTube video for a short demo of the basic functions).

Along the lines of a more ergonomic workspace my second biggest wish is the Falto Wip 37. I tested it on a trade show years ago and have fallen in love with it since.

That’s it. Sorry for being a chatterbox and breaking the character count record here on Sweet Mac Setups.

More Sweet Setups

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

Patrick Welker’s Sweet Mac Setup

David Friedman’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

My name is David Friedman. I’m a New York based photographer and filmmaker, and I have a blog called Ironic Sans for my projects that don’t fit under those other umbrellas.

I currently produce a web series for PBS Digital Studios called INVENTORS. It’s part of a larger personal project creating portraits of inventors from all walks of life, from garage tinkerers to famous legends. A book of extensive interviews and photos is in the works.

I’m married to a wonderful woman who’s an Art Director for, which gives me a good excuse to read comics, and we have a two-year-old son.

What is your current setup?

David Friedman's Sweet Mac Setup

David Friedman's Sweet Mac Setup

My primary computer is an early 2008 Mac Pro. It’s hooked up to a Dell 24″ monitor that’s a bit older than the Mac. The screen is still color-accurate when calibrated (with a Datacolor Spyder), and I’m fine with the size, but I’m dying to replace it with something more densely pixeled. A Retina desktop monitor can’t come soon enough.

I sit next to a large window, which is nice for sanity but bad for color accuracy. The windows have opaque shutters I can close when doing color critical work.

The Mac’s hard drive bays are all in use: Bay 1 is my SSD boot drive — it’s fast but small, so I have my Documents, Downloads, and Pictures folders symlinked to a drive in Bay 2. My iTunes media is on a drive in Bay 3. And Bay 4 has a drive for scratch purposes and other temporary storage.

I have a Western Digital MyBook that keeps backups of the drives in Bays 1 & 2 via Time Machine. At some point I accumulated a second MyBook that I keep around as a Magic Install Disk which has come in surprisingly handy.

I replaced the SuperDrive with a Blu-Ray burner even though optical media is on the decline, because I still like having a write-once copy of my photo archive as a last resort backup. I take comfort knowing it’s impossible to accidentally overwrite a file with a corrupt or altered version. So after every 25 GB of shooting, I burn a disc.

I have a Drobo (2nd generation) which holds the primary copy of my photo archive. Every photo I’ve ever shot digitally for personal or freelance work is connected live and easily accessible.

I use a 6×8 Wacom Intuos3 stylus, switching between mouse and pen more or less equally depending on the task. I own an Apple wireless keyboard, but tend to use the wired keyboard because I like having a number pad.

Both my household and business are mostly paperless. For document scanning I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M. I have a physical inbox currently backlogged with stuff to be scanned.

My monitor has neither camera nor microphone, so I use an old Logitech webcam for rare video chatting and occasional dictation. I’m much more likely to use my iPhone for video chat, usually down on the floor with my son chatting with my parents.

My secondary Mac is a Late 2011 15″ MacBook Pro. I don’t use it most days. It’s mainly for when I’m shooting tethered on location or traveling and need something more than an iPad.

I have a Brother HL-2170W laser printer for document printing, and an Epson R2400 for photo printing.

I usually sit in a Humanscale Freedom task chair (the no-headrest model) I got cheap from a company going out of business. It’s okay.

Why this rig?

It’s the first Mac I ever bought. Here is my switch story:

I’ve always been fairly Apple/PC ambidextrous. Our first family computer was an Apple II (well, a clone). Sometime in the early 90s we got a PC and I learned to use DOS and Windows. Eventually I took that PC with me to college and my parents replaced it with a Mac. When I moved to New York in 1997, just starting out on my own with a small income, I bought another PC. I didn’t think Macs were as affordable, and I already had a lot of Windows software I would need to buy again for the Mac, so a PC worked well for me.

At the same time, I started working in the photo studio at Christie’s auction house. They had just transitioned to a fully digital workflow, a very rare thing in 1997. They were using Macs, so that’s what I used by day, and then went home to my Windows machine. Eventually I left Christie’s to become the staff photographer at Polo Ralph Lauren which insisted I used Windows for corporate reasons. But I continued to be adept at both platforms.

In 2007, I decided to quit my cushy life as a staff photographer and go freelance. I updated my computer to the latest, fastest, and greatest Dell computer I could afford, and it came with the latest and greatest version of Windows: Vista. It was garbage. I hated everything about it.

2007 is also when I moved in with my soon-to-be wife, a graphic designer who had a Mac. Watching her use OS X while I struggled with Vista made it harder to tolerate my own computer. Software for the Mac was more abundant than ever, and the games I used to play on the PC were less important to me.

So in early 2008 I took the plunge. I’d had a good first year as a freelancer, so I could afford to trade up. I got rid of the Vista machine and went all-in with the Mac described above. I kept the Dell monitor. Apple’s switch to Intel gave me confidence that if I really needed a Windows application I couldn’t replace on the Mac I could still run it in a Virtual Machine, and that made the switch easy. I haven’t looked back.

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

Specific to my work:

  • Lightroom for the majority of my photo image editing and maintaining my archive.
  • Photoshop for retouching, but less and less as Lightroom gains more powerful non-destructive capabilities that use all the photo’s raw data.
  • Since I do a lot of video these days, I recently updated to the entire Adobe CS6 Master Collection and use Adobe Premiere Pro. I had been using Final Cut Pro but found Premiere to be more stable and faster, despite some nice features I miss from FCP. I purchased the full version instead of getting a Creative Cloud subscription.
  • Parallels so I can use QuickBooks for Windows, to make things easier for my accountant.

More generally useful apps I use. For OS X:

  • Apple Mail
  • Chrome
  • Busycal
  • Dropbox
  • 1Password
  • TextExpander
  • LaunchBar
  • Tweetbot
  • Spotify
  • Keyboard Maestro — I’m finding more and more use for this handy tool.
  • Isolator for when I want to work in single-app mode but don’t want to run that app full screen.
  • Things went from frustrating to amazing once they worked out their syncing issues. It still lacks features I’d like to see, but it’s my To-Do App of choice.
  • Leap is a great visual alternative to Finder. I use it primarily with my various folders of PDFs. It helps me mentally to just think of Leap as my digital filing cabinet.
  • nvALT for notes. I sync to individual text files on Dropbox.
  • ChronoSync for copying crucial files across drives, specifically because it does verification.
  • CrashPlan for cloud backup.
  • iBank for managing my home finances. I don’t love it, but it gets the job done, and they are clearly trying to make good software in a space that badly need it. I’ve tried other apps trying to solve this problem for the Mac, but settled on iBank.
  • Hazel for automated filing of documents.
  • Pixel City is a screen saver which flies through a procedurally generated city. I’m not usually a screen saver guy, but this one is nice, seldom seen, and not overly distracting when it comes on. Sadly, the Mac port doesn’t appear to be easily available anymore, but I think the source code is free somewhere. If you can find it, make sure you get the 1.1 version for compatibility with recent OS X versions.

And for iOS in no particular order:

  • 1Password
  • Instapaper
  • Reeder
  • Things
  • Google Maps
  • Tweetbot
  • Scanner Pro
  • Spotify
  • Remoteless lets you control the Desktop version of Spotify from your iPhone
  • Fantastical— I’ve tried a lot of iPhone calendar alternatives, and this is the only one I’ve stuck with.
  • Photogene is a full-featured photo editor that’s not trying too hard to be cool.
  • Easy Release is a simple model release app so I never have to worry about having them on hand.
  • FiLMiC Pro — when I need to use my iPhone as an extra video camera, this app lets me match the frame rate of my primary camera (usually 24 frames per second instead of the iPhone stock camera’s 30 frames) and select the bit rate. I confess I haven’t done a real test to see just how well it does what it claims, as I imagine it must use some sort of trickery to accomplish its magic.
  • Instacast (I’m longing for a desktop version to sync with!)
  • Team Coco — I cut the cable cord a few years ago, so it’s great to see full episodes of Conan on here. Although actually I tend to just listen to it when I go to bed.
  • TiVo lets you do everything you’d expect it to do from your phone. Surprisingly useful.
  • Dark Sky is maybe my most-useful weather app.
  • WriteRoom for notes, syncing to Dropbox.
  • Kindle — I use the Mac ecosystem because it’s the best for me, but I know that might not always be the case. Who knows what I’ll use in twenty years? Since Amazon seems to want Kindle on all devices, I see it as the most future-proof eBook ecosystem.
  • Google Authenticator for 2-step verification.
  • Launch Center Pro — more useful than I realized it would be when I bought it.
  • Alien Blue (a nice app for lurking on reddit)
  • Navigon MobileNavigator — for me, this is the best GPS software for driving, but I haven’t tried them all. I quite like it, though. (North America edition)
  • Day One I have never been much of a journal writer, but having a kid changed that. I like jotting down my son’s milestones and adventures.
  • Marvel Unlimited — I’m biased because my wife worked on this, but Marvel Unlimited is an awesome service. I’ve been getting back into comics this year after an extended absence, and this is such a great way to catch up on all the story lines I missed over the years. Yeah, there are bugs (not her fault) and the occasional missing issue in the middle of a story here and there, but I’m sure those things will be ironed out. There is just so much great content here. Access to 13,000+ comics from 70 years of Marvel history for so little money is such a bargain.

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

I’m not sure my current physical setup does much for me creatively, to be honest. It’s mainly the software, and in that sense I benefit from the work other people did. Other people figured out what’s needed in a good video editor before I ever started shooting video. Other people figured out how to capture raw photo data and how to get the most from it. Other people solved a lot of technical problems for me before I even knew I had them. Because of those engineers, obstacles get out of my way and let me just concentrate on getting things done.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

The biggest thing I would change in my setup is its location. I enjoy having a home office, but it’s not isolated enough from the rest of my living space. This makes it tough to separate work from life. I could really use an extra room as my office.

Next, I’d get rid of wires. Unfortunately wireless tech isn’t quite a match for my needs right now, but I hope that changes soon.

Also, I’d have a camera bag that was bigger on the inside than the outside, stores all the gear I need for travel and location work, fits in an overhead bin, and barely weighs anything.

More Sweet Setups

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

David Friedman’s Sweet Mac Setup

The Sweet Mac Setup of @AppleSpotlight

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Rob, but I’m better known as the guy behind the Twitter account @AppleSpotlight, where I write and link to stuff that I find useful or interesting.

What is your current setup?

Rob's Sweet Mac Setup

For my Mac setup, I use a 27″ iMac at my desk and an 11″ MacBook Air on the go. I can’t type that well, but I can touch type on a number pad. Therefore, I opt to use the Apple keyboard with numeric keypad. I use a Magic Mouse in one hand and a Magic Trackpad in the other for double the magic.

My iMac sits on a huge 3ft by 6ft desk from Design Within Reach, and I sit on a Herman Miller chair. I listen to JBL Creature speakers, which look super cool and sound just okay. My MacBook Air travels in a Tom Bihn bag and usually sits on a coffeehouse table.

As for iOS, I have the iPhone 5 and 3rd-generation iPad. I prefer my iPhone naked and currently use a sleeve by Richshaw for my iPad.

The iMac (and I suppose the cloud) is the hub of my setup. I treat everything else as a satellite device.

That said, this is how I spend my time by device (most to least): iPhone, iPad, iMac, MacBook Air.

Why this rig?

I was a little too early to the desktop-plus-laptop setup. In the early 2000s, I was using a Power Mac G4 Cube and a PowerBook G4. I wanted the power, storage, and larger screen of a desktop while in my office and the portability of the laptop while away. The experience of keeping things in sync, however, wasn’t ideal. Remember, this was before the days of iCloud, Dropbox, et al. So as a compromise I switched to a laptop-plus-display setup — a series of Powerbooks and MacBook Pros with a Cinema Display.

My current rig, along with the right software services, finally delivers on what I was hoping to achieve in the early 2000s.

There is no other tool in my life that I use more than iPhone, so I typically upgrade with each new version. Although upgrading gets expensive, all the improvements in each new model really add up when reaching for my iPhone several dozens times each day.

I love the feel of the iPad mini in my hands, but for now I prefer the larger, retina display and the larger keyboard.

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

There are so many great apps, but here are a selection of the ones I find particularly useful:

  • Tweetbot is my primary Twitter client.
  • Dropbox keeps my world in sync.
  • 1Password makes the hell that is passwords a little more tolerable.
  • Things is the task manager that helps me get things done.
  • Focus Time is a nice little iOS app to use with the Pomodoro Technique (if you haven’t hear of the Pomodoro Technique, it’s worth checking out).
  • Reminders is the place for my simple lists, like books I want to read, and shared lists, like the Whole Foods Market list that I share with my wife.
  • Simplenote makes it easy for me to take and find all of my notes.
  • Evernote is for those things that don’t fit in Simplenote, such as notes with photos. Although I’m not a fan of the interface.
  • Instapaper is the black hole where I store things that I rarely have time to read. I’m starting to play around with Pocket, however, and I really like what I see.
  • TripIt is awesome for organizing trip details. Don’t leave home without it.
  • Pixelmator on OS X is what I use to remind myself that I don’t know much about image editing.
  • SuperDuper is what I use for full backups.
  • CrashPlan is what I use for cloud backups.

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

This setup is not only about having the best tool for the job but also about having the best tool for where I am. It is also about having access to nearly all of my data and apps, regardless of where or what device I’m using. Apple and the strong Apple development community have made all of this simple and a joy to use.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I think my current setup is near ideal, but I have a feeling Apple may have something else in mind for me.

More Setups

Rob’s is one in a series of sweet Mac setups.

The Sweet Mac Setup of @AppleSpotlight

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 über-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.

Brett Terpstra’s Sweet Mac Setup

Dan Frommer’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Dan Frommer, based in Brooklyn NY, but always a Chicagoan at heart.

My main gig since 2005 has been writing about technology news, particularly from a business angle. My most recent project is, a site I started by myself in July, 2011, and hope to be working on forever. Right now it’s a mix of news analysis, reporting, data mining, chart porn, and link aggregation. In the future, who knows what it’s going to turn into. (I’m also, more recently, Editor at Large for a larger tech site called ReadWriteWeb.)

Before that, I helped start a site called Silicon Alley Insider in 2007: A New York-centric tech site that kept growing and morphed into Business Insider, which is now a huge and popular general-purpose news site. I started writing professionally at Forbes, writing about Internet infrastructure and telecom. I’ve also been a part- to full-time web designer since 1995, and I helped work on a few now-defunct Mac sites in the mid-to-late 90s.

What is your current setup?

Dan Frommer's Sweet Mac Setup

I work mostly from a home office in Brooklyn, but I do a fair (and increasing) amount of travel. My main rig is a 2009 quad-core iMac, 27 inches, with an old 24-inch secondary Dell screen (not pictured) that we use to watch videos on from a different angle. I prefer a wired keyboard to wireless (same for mice when I used them) but I’ve gotten used to the Magic Trackpad. My desktop image is an aerial photo of lower Manhattan that I shot out of the window of a plane a few years ago.

I also have a 13-inch MacBook Air for cafes and travel and an old Mac mini hooked up to my TV in the living room. Around the house, I also have a bunch of old Macs collecting dust, including my “Windtunnel” G4 tower (dual-DVD drives!) from 2003 and some old PowerBooks. And an Apple II floppy drive that Steve Wozniak autographed for me.

As far as post-PC living… I have an old iPad 3G, which I’ll be replacing with the new iPad whenever it comes out. And my current smartphone is a factory-unlocked iPhone 4S, which I bought to experiment with overseas SIM cards during my travels this year.

Oh, I also have one of those fake-plastic-grass charging stations, which I mostly use to add some color and life to my desk. Love it.

Why this rig?

I bought the 27-inch iMac soon after they first came out because the screen was just amazing. (It still is.) On most days, it’s still fast enough that I haven’t felt the urge to replace it. Though having the SSD boot drive on my Air has really changed my perception of how quick a Mac should be, so maybe this year I’ll pick up a new iMac with an SSD boot drive, depending on how things go. (I’m in no hurry.)

I started with the 11-inch Air but gave it to my wife after I spent a little time with the 13-inch model. The extra screen size and battery life on the 13-inch is well worth the extra bulk to me, especially considering how light it is relative to my old 13-inch plastic MacBook. The MacBook Air is really the laptop I’ve always wanted but never had: Light enough to take everywhere and not secretly hate it for making my bag heavy. I was so excited about the 12-inch PowerBook G4 when I got it in 2005 but it was always so heavy that I never really took it anywhere. The Air is really magical.

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

I was really into little hacks and automation and shortcut-type stuff in MacOS 8 and 9, but after switching to OS X in 2001, I’ve tried to use as much of a stock install as I can. It’s nice to keep things simple, I think.

Most of my work is in Chrome, using WordPress for SplatF and Movable Type for ReadWriteWeb. I also use TweetDeck almost all day (the old, Adobe AIR version; like it more than the new one so far). I have Photoshop Elements, Fireworks, and Acorn for graphics stuff, but I don’t do much that’s more elaborate than cropping and resizing images, and maybe adding a little text to them. For photos, I mostly use Image Capture and the Finder to organize them. I do a lot of charts for SplatF, and almost all of that is done in Numbers from the Mac App Store. Other than that, I use Adium for IM and Mail for email.

I’m still running Snow Leopard on my main iMac — haven’t felt the need to upgrade — but have Lion on my Air. It’s… okay.

The old Mac software I miss the most was an app called Hotline, which was most popular around 1998-1999. It was a cool mashup of FTP, IRC, and newsgroups, and there was a great community. I spent hundreds of hours on Hotline in high school, and then a lot of time on Carracho, a Hotline successor. But I don’t think any of that stuff still exists.

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

My main job is to find and sift through endless streams and piles of information, so being able to have 2 or 3 windows open at the same time, large enough to see a bunch of data, is why I love the big iMac so much. At Business Insider, I had a second 24-inch screen open to TweetDeck all day, but I don’t really like multi-screen setups. I’m really big on symmetry. During baseball season, sometimes I’ll prop up my iPad next to me to keep the Cubs game on, because the iOS version of MLB’s stream is better than the Flash-based web version.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

My desk is pretty big, but once I move in a few months I might investigate some sort of hybrid sit-stand system. I really like standing, and feel like a jerk sitting around all day. Other than that, I’d just like to always have the biggest screen that makes sense to have. If Apple made a 42-inch iMac, I’d probably buy one.

I like having separate desktop and laptop computers so that I can leave my desktop on all the time (acting as a home server of sorts) and keep a subset of my data on my laptop. Most of my work is on the web so I don’t really care about syncing.

I’m blown away by how efficient, quick, and quiet Macs are these days. When I was home over the holidays, I booted up my old IIci and my old Performa, and the CPUs were both so big, so heavy, and so loud for the little processing power they provided.

More Sweet Setups

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

Dan Frommer’s Sweet Mac Setup

Brian Stucki and Macminicolo’s Sweet Mac Setups

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I am Brian Stucki. I live in Las Vegas with my wife and 2.6 kids. (We’re due in April with our first girl.) I’m a fan of history, travel and golf. Though, I’m so bad that my golf game probably deserves to be history. Most of my stuff is located at and I’m @BrianStucki.

I enjoy starting new projects, building them out, and then selling them for funds to invest in something else. My first time was my golf club cleaning business when I was 11. I had 6 customers that would golf then leave their clubs with me to clean up and have ready for them. More recently it’s been blogs about software, TV show fansites, and even a successful iPad app. The projects have all been great reasons to learn new technology and improve business acumen.

I own Macminicolo, which is my main work focus. We’re turning 7 years old soon. When we first introduced the company, there was quite a bit of doubt (Hi, slashdot friends) but now thousands of minis later, the little machines roll on more powerful than ever.

What is your current setup?

Mac mini Colocation Center

Mac mini Colocation Center

Mac mini Colocation Center

Mac mini Colocation Center

I work from my home office nearly all of the time. I have other locations to be “more business official” but the truth is that seeing my wife and kids often is really important to me. In my home, my office is at the end of a long hall where I can close the door and have quiet. (There is usually James Taylor playing to keep me focused.) However, I’ll regularly step away from the desk to play some catch or color the super-hero of the day. I think this balance is critical.

When I’m in my office, I’m working on a black-brown Galant Desk from Ikea. By design, there is a lot of desk space, and it’s nearly always clean. I really, really struggle to think when surrounded by clutter.

For office hardware, I use a Mid-2011 27″ iMac with 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SATA Drive+256GB SSD combo. Sitting beside the iMac is a 27″ Cinema Display, an iPad 2 16GB+3G, (AT&T because coverage is quite good in Las Vegas). I use an iPhone 4S (AT&T). I use an Apple Wireless Keyboard, An Apple Magic Mouse, and have a Magic Trackpad stuffed in my drawer that I used for twenty minutes and haven’t touched since. I use an Airport Extreme to spray wireless throughout the house. I back up to a media Mac mini that’s hard wired to the router, making up one-third of my tri-approach to backups.

For the Macminicolo data center, it’s minis, minis and more minis. Within the next month, there will be one thousand operating Mac minis in the data center. We have some minis that have been here since day one serving for seven continuous years. (1.25 G4 with 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive). And of course, the new i5/i7 machines have been very popular. (1.5TB disk space, 16GB of RAM.)

While in the data center, I use a Mid-2011 MacBook Air. It’s the base version with 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 2GB of RAM.

Two non-Apple hardware items that I use all the time for work and couldn’t function without are a ScanSnap S1500M and a base Kindle. I document all of my travel in the Field Notes County Fair Box Set of all 50 States and keep a good supply of my favorite pen.

Why this rig?


I love the HDD/SSD combo. Nearly all of my everyday stuff is on the SSD (Mail, Apps, iPhoto, etc.) and then I symlink to the HDD for the large data items (iTunes music, iMovie footage, software disk images.) But the best use of the HDD is a nightly place to clone the SSD boot drive without having to have a hard drive plugged into the back of the iMac. It keeps things clean, and keeps me with a bootable backup.

I purchased the 27″ iMac and 27″ Cinema Display because I think any cost in desktop space is proportional to increase in productivity. The iMac screen is showing whatever I’m working on right now. On the Cinema Display, I keep my staple apps open and viewable (i.e. Mail, Twitter for Mac, iChat Buddy list, etc.). Easy to view, quick to reply with customers, etc.

iPad 2

If I am sitting at my desk, the iPad is usually streaming that day’s Red Sox game. When I have a full desktop at my fingertips, I prefer to use it. But if I’m in a meeting the iPad is my main tool. It lets me control Mac minis in the data center, and keep up with all news and messages. I intended to tether my iPad to my iPhone when on the road but that hasn’t happened. It turns out that I still have not disabled the 3G on the iPad itself. It is too convenient to have it always on.

iPhone 4S

If I am on the move or traveling, my iPhone is nearly always the only technology I have on me. I use to bring around a laptop, and then the iPad, but I later realized that the iPhone can hold me over for an extended period of time. I had an iPhone moment the other day. As I pulled into a parking spot at the store, I was: (1) streaming music to my car via bluetooth; (2) controlling a Mac mini in the data center with Screen Sharing; (3) seeing Twitter notifications drop down; and, (4) beaming my location to my wife (via find my friends) as we were meeting at the nearby restaurant. From a phone. Seriously.

MacBook Air

I purchased this laptop for use in the data center. I wondered if the 11-inch screen might be too small but that has proven inaccurate. With Mission Control, full-screen apps, screen sharing, and an incredible battery life, it has been a perfect tool.

Mac mini

I do not think it is possible to list all the activities that the Mac minis are being used for in the data center. We have popular iOS developers hosting here (, numerous Apple employees (who shall remain without name unless they so choose), quite a few Filemaker resellers and small businesses/tinkerers in 47 different countries around the world.

When I say the Mac mini is a great server, I practice what I preach. Our main site, our support site, and our stats/monitoring all run on Mac minis here. I also have some other services running on minis that you may have used in the past (a mirror for,, and our lesser known

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

I suppose it’s easiest to break this up by product line.

Personal Mac

  • Lion: All my machines are using the latest Lion operating system. I still hear of hesitation to upgrade, but I think it’s been quite stable.

  • Day One: I have kept a journal for 12 years. I am nearing 5000 personal entries spread across paper, books, and applications. It is an absolute treasure to look back on so many important moments of my life. Recently I have moved to Day One and I have found it incredibly well done. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to start a journal.

  • Money: Of all the money apps on Mac and iOS I think this one is best designed across the board. It is clean, and works well. It falls short when it comes to syncing a high number of entries, but they are introducing iCloud for Mac/iOS soon and that will be great.

  • 1Password: Such a time saver when one tries every new online service and network and has to keep the credentials straight. A little part of me cringes every time a Mac user hand types a password into a site. I also love that it will auto-populate as you log into sites for the first time.

  • Twitter for Mac: I think Twitter does well with their official Mac client. My only wish is that you could have a separate window for each Twitter account.

  • Smultron: My favorite text editor. It was free for a long time, but even at its new price , I think it is worth it.

  • SuperDuper!: I mentioned earlier that I backup my SSD to my internal HDD. Once a week, I clone the 2TB hard drive to an external drive with this app, then take that down to the data center for safe storage. All these years and SuperDuper has never failed me on a bootable backup.

  • Caffeine for Mac I’m not a coffee drinker (surprisingly Shawn still calls me a friend) so this app is nearly all of the caffeine in my life. It’s a Menu bar item that prevents your Mac from going to sleep or screen saver. If I’m doing other work at my desk and just keeping an eye on the Mac, this prevents the constant mouse jiggle.

iOS Devices

  • Reeder: Sometimes RSS feeds can be a time drain, but I get a lot of new ideas from reading the intelligent posts of others. Reeder makes it easy. The ability to send to Instapaper and other services is second to none.

  • Tweetbot: The great thing about this app is the design of every little detail. Swipe left to see replies. Tap and hold the icon for options. So intelligent.

  • Capture: I believe it was Shawn that pointed me to Capture. Start the app and you are recording video right away. Great for dads.

  • Golfshot: Do not waste your time buying and testing other golf apps. Even at the higher price, this one is the best. GPS is accurate. Scoring is thorough. I consider this an essential work app. Everyone needs a place they can clear their mind to think, and the golf course is my place. (I had a roommate in college who thought best in the shower. iPhones are not much use in there.) If I’m struggling with an issue or brainstorming a new business idea,I am usually hitting golf balls somewhere.

  • Find my Friends: So often, people assume the worst when you and your spouse use this app to keep track of each other. That is too bad. I have complete trust in my wife, and she in me. Whether she is driving home from vacation, or I am waiting for them to meet me at Grandma’s, this app helps us “communicate” without having to distract while driving.

    I do wish that you could set a recurring “friend” in the app. In other words, all the MMC staff would share location during business hours on weekdays, but not other times. That’d be very convenient.


  • Trackthepack: There are a lot of Mac minis flowing in and out of Las Vegas. This iOS and web app has proven perfect to watch them. I like that you can forward shipment emails to the site and it will automatically add it to your account. (And people wonder how we receive a Mac mini and then have it installed within an hour or two. This app is our secret.)

  • iTeleport: I try all the VNC/Screen Sharing apps in the app store. There are many good ones, and some are better designed, but this one has proven most reliable for me.

  • Lithium: We use lithium to monitor all bandwidth and traffic on the Macminicolo network. The Lithium Core runs on a Mac mini in the data center and there are Mac/iOS apps to keep an eye on things from afar.

  • Boxcar: If there is an issue in the data center, we know about it right away thanks to this app. Sends all sorts of notifications. In a more common (and more fun) occurrence, each time a new customer signs up we get a “Cha-ching” notification. It is like my personal Pavlov experiment.

  • Backpack: We coordinate all Macminicolo happenings with Backpack. I will try every new todo application to run the company, but always seem to come back to this great product. It is a shame that no great iOS clients are available for it.

  • GoSquared: They have a great dashboard (and a nice free plan) to keep an eye on where your traffic is coming from and going.

  • Pastebot: Even after all these years, I still prefer the sales emails to come straight to me. I enjoy that interaction. I like to be there when they start getting ideas for their new mini servers. However, there are definitely some questions that I have received over and over. Pastebot is invaluable to give good thorough answers quickly.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

There is no doubt some overlap in my Apple products. I have reasons for picking each (which I’ve tried to list) but it’s clear I could do without one or two of them. The truth is, I don’t want to. I’m not wealthy, but technology is the one place I’m comfortable to splurge a little with money. My shoes are usually a couple years old, I’ve worn the same brand/style of clothes for 20 years, I’m fine with grilled cheese and a pickle for dinner. Like a lot of you, it doesn’t take many possessions to keep me going. But, I do like cutting edge technology, and I like learning what it can do.

So ideal? I suppose it’s whatever is coming next. And I’ll use it while wearing my old clothes and eating my sandwich dinner.

More Sweet Setups

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

Macminicolo has previously been a sponsor of the RSS Feed here, but this Sweet Mac Setup post is in no way related to that sponsorship.

Brian Stucki and Macminicolo’s Sweet Mac Setups