The following interview was inspired by The Setup, a
collection of nerdy interviews, asking people from all walks of life about the hardware and software they use. Over one year ago I wrote about my setup in a similar self-conducted interview. Since then a lot has changed. I started a new job, got married, and have a greater understanding about what I want from my technology. Instead of documenting my progression I thought I would start fresh with a new look at what I am using in 2012.
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Thomas Brand. I started my professional training as a graphic artist, found I had a greater knack for the technical side of design, and dropped out of art school to work for Apple. After spending some time behind the bar as a Lead Mac Genius I left Apple retail to join the IT team first at Boston Children’s Hospital, and now MIT. When I am not managing an IT team, I find time to write Egg Freckles, and train for my next Marathon.
What hardware are you using?
At home I have a 2009 Mac Pro loaded with 16GBs of RAM, 2 640GB stripped Western Digital Caviar Black drives, and a 120 OWC Mercury Accelsior bootable PCI Express SSD. The default graphics have been upgraded to a AMD 5780 card that drives a low resolution Wide screen 19 inch 1440 x 900 HP LCD display. I use a Magic Trackpad for everything but playing games, and a Apple Extended Keyboard for making the most noise while typing.
Having a lot of RAM is important to me because I run a lot of virtual machines for my day job. My stripped RAID set is used for storing photos, music, and any virtual machines that cannot fit on the PCI Express SSD. Mac Pros are not known for their record breaking boot times, but in all other areas the Mercury Accelsior PCI Express SSD makes Mac OS X scroll like “butter.” I don’t consider myself a gamer, but I am a huge fan of id Software. When RAGE debuted for the Mac I upgraded my graphics card just to try it out. Large, high-resolution displays don’t work for me. My vision is so poor I must sit inches away from the screen and move my head to see anything larger than 20 inches. All of my data, photos, music, and virtual machines are backed up using Time Machine to a 2nd Generation Drobo with 8TBs of storage. My Mac Pro is the last machine in the house running Snow Leopard, but I may be upgrading to Mountain Lion very soon.
In addition to the Mac Pro I have a personal HP black and white laser printer for documents, a Epson R2400 for photography, and a AirPort Extreme for making everything in the house work together.
At work I was given the choice of a new computer after starting my new job and I choose a 15” MacBook Pro with Retina display and 16GBs of memory. The Retina display is overkill for me because of my poor eyesight. I can’t tell the difference between HD and standard definition television without sitting inches from the screen, and the Retina display is no different. Even worse, my poor eyesight makes me a poor fit for laptops because of the awkward ergonomics that come from having to sit scrunched over the keyboard. Despite these obstacles I choose the Retina because it was the best computer Apple offered at the time. When it comes to personal computers I can work with Windows, or Linux, but I am happiest running Mac OS X.
I have a first generation iPad for playing the occasional game, tweeting, and reading Instapaper and email in bed. I have tried being productive on my iPad, but most of my attempts have fallen short. I blame iOS’s poor multitasking, my iPad’s limited RAM, and the lack of a pixel perfect graphics editor for my lack of productivity.
I take my iPhone 4S with me wherever I go. Short of making the occasional todo list, or capturing a casual photo, it is my text messaging, Twitter, email, Instapaper, and iTunes consumption device. I Rarely use it to make phone calls.
The Newton I keep on my desk is a MessagePad 130. I use it mostly for taking notes, jotting down ideas, and distraction free writing via the optional keyboard. I sync what I write back to my Mac by aid of infared, and a wifi enabled MessagePad 2100. I appreciate the fact my Newton can run for weeks on four replacable AA batteries.
And what software?
- Firefox is my browser of choice because of the consistency it gives me across multiple platforms. I don’t run many extensions, and I don’t mind Firefox’s non-native appearance. What does bother me is that Safari is not maintained equally across older versions of Mac OS X when it is still supported across older versions of Windows. As for Chrome I have never been a fan of Google.
- Mail.app for email only, and never RSS, notes, todo lists, or HTML templates. I prefer plain text email, and so should you.
- iTunes the unescapable hub of our digital age. I think I was content with the feature set of iTunes 3 which offered ratings, smart playlists, and iPod syncing. I can live without video, the music store, and everything iOS that has made its way into iTunes over the last decade.
- I find myself drifting between Coda and BBEdit as far as my text editor is concerned. So much of what I write is web related that Coda is a natural fit. It is the local extension of my server-side CMS. When I need to perform a task that Coda can’t complete I turn to BBEdit. “It doesn’t suck.”
- I fell in love with the Mac because of Photoshop, Freehand, and PageMaker, but Adobe has let me down over the last couple of years. I have no desire to fund their attempts to create platforms. All I want is great creative tools so I can make my very best. Acorn, Pixelmator, and OmniGrafflehave been picking up the slack where Adobe left off. For less than $100 a piece you can’t go wrong giving these three graphic software upstarts a try.
- Lightroom is my photo manager of choice because it makes my images look their very best. If you are going to process RAW you might as well use the tool from the company that invented the format, DNG.
- Writeroom is distraction free writing, and the app that I turn to when I am distracted.
- Dropbox is the most revolutionary technology advancement since the iPhone. It performs the impossible dream of keeping all of my device in sync, all of the time. iCloud can never take its place as long as I am using Windows at work, and Linux on the server.
- Instapaper brings the content of the internet to my eyes on my own terms. Once you start using Instapaper the whole web looks like a distraction.
What would be your dream setup?
My dream setup is not about what hardware or software I use, but what skills I bring to the keyboard. I would love to be a hardcore programmer, but I have never learned how. Editing like a whiz in the command line would keep me portable, but I have always been too scared to give up the GUI. Personal computing has always been exciting because it opens our eyes to new possibilities. Sometimes all you need to achieve your goals and look past the horizon is the confidence to jump in and trust a setup you are not completely comfortable with. My dream setup would be much of what I have and just enough new and unfamiliar to keep me excited.