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The Setup

A few weeks ago I mentioned on Twitter that I’m using a top-of-the-line 13" MacBook Air as my primary machine. The 27" behemoth of an iMac is gone: I sold it to a kindly soul on Twitter, and watched him as he threw his weight to one side and awkwardly dragged the giant box out of my apartment. I offered to help, but he said he could handle it. Super nice guy.

For some reason, this decision was of interest to other people. I got mixed responses, ranging anywhere from simple curiosity to guffaws. A few asked for me to write something up about this, so here we sit. If this type of stuff bores you, go ahead and skip over this post. It’s long, hairy, and thorough, and I realize this is of interest to maybe 3 of you. For you three, let’s get into it.

I don’t talk about technology here very often, mostly because I think it’s usually inconsequential to the topics I want to write about. But, truth is, we deal with some pretty nerdy stuff here, and every nerd tinkers with their setup. I think tweaking the rig is a large part of being a nerd. So, I’ve spent the past 3 or 4 years tinkering, swapping out a new computer every year, trying desktops, trying all-in-ones, trying powerful laptops of all sorts of sizes. All of those computers were Apple, because I’m one of those god-forsaken suckers who unfortunately takes a certain smidge of personal identity by aligning myself with the products I use.

You know what I’ve learned? A person only flails around with their rig when they don’t have a clear idea of their work. Suitability and fit is paramount, and one is never going to find what they’re looking for if they don’t know what they need. So, I looked at my work, I watched how I used my computer for a day, and found out all I do is draw vector shapes, surf the web, listen to music, and bash words out in plain text. That’s hardly the type of activity that requires computational brute force, though I understand there are some of you out there that require just that. Not me though. Nope.

And these computers? As much as I love fiddle-faddling with the damn things, I mostly just want to forget I have one and get on with saying stuff and making things. I realized that I valued freedom more than power, flexibility more than blazing speed. I want the choice of being able to be mobile, and to carry around my whole setup with me at all times without much inconvenience.

So, MacBook Air. Hiya. I kept the iMac around when I bought this Air, just in case it didn’t have the horsepower I needed to work. Within a week, my iMac turned into a jukebox because it had my music, and I was working on the Air. Something just registered there, like the computer was what I had been looking for. This might just be total rubbish and I’m projecting things onto this machine, but I think I love it because I can’t fiddle-faddle with it. It’s un-fiddle-faddle-able.


I’m the computational equivalent of taupe. You’ve already heard of all the software I use. But, for your gleeful Monday distractionary needs, here’s a list of non-system software installed on this computer.

  • Adobe Creative Suite Dealing with the devil here. I think the software is fat and bloated. I wish I could disable features. I wish every feature was built on a plugin architecture so I could get rid of it. Alas, it’s not, but the software is still necessary for work.
  • ArtFiles ArtFiles packages illustrator files up like InDesign does natively. A total god-send.
  • Backblaze Automated backup. More in a bit on my backup schema.
  • BusyCal It’s essentially what iCal should be. In fact, it looks just like iCal, except it supports calendar syncing using Google Calendars. Ace.
  • Cloud For automated uploads of screengrabs.
  • Coda For all my web development. One day I will write a heart-felt song to the fellas at Panic for Coda.
  • Dropbox You know why. More in a bit on backup schema.
  • Firefox and Chrome Just for testing.
  • iWork Keynote and Pages.
  • Notational Velocity For little text snippets. Syncs with Simplenote.
  • Reeder I’m currently using Reeder for RSS stuff. I love it on the iPad and iPhone, but right now on the desktop it just feels.. off? I trust they’ll work it out. Smart, talented people work on this.
  • Skype Duh.
  • SuperDuper For drive cloning. More on backup later.
  • TextExpander I’m not the best with TextExpander kung fu, but it’s great for autofilling Lorem Ipsum and quickening the email process.
  • TextMate Preferred letter-bashing program. Mix with markdown for optimum effect.
  • Transmit Again, love letters to Panic. I use Transmit for backups to Amazon S3.

What you’re asking yourself

How does the Adobe software run?

It’s still a pain in the neck due to the qualities of the software, but it runs just fine. There’s hardly any noticeable difference compared to my old iMac monster. Keep in mind, I’m not working with files that are 700MB Photoshop PSDs.

Font management?

Nope. I have about 100 fonts, which isn’t quite enough to warrant a sophisticated font management solution. Also, I typically am not working with other people’s files.

How is the 13" screen?

I’ve actually grown to love it. This screen is gorgeous, and not as reflective and glassy as a MacbookPro. I may at some point invest in a monitor, but it certainly won’t be 27”. I’m the kind of guy who needs a clear focal point, so the vast expanse of 27” made me feel like I didn’t have full mastery over my tool. I’m going to do my best without a big screen for now.


I installed Flash in Safari so Rdio would work. I installed ClicktoFlash as well to prevent Flash from loading on other sites. YouTube and Vimeo are switched to HTML5. The only thing that makes my fan spin is when the Flash Player gets summoned in any browser. (Surprisingly, the fan remains idle while using Adobe Creative Suite software.)

Hard drive size an issue?

I use an external hard drive. I don’t packrat. I’ve cut down my music collection because I use Rdio. I typically delete shows I’ve bought on iTunes after I’ve watched them, but more often than not I use Netflix Streaming. As of this writing, I’m only using about half the space on my 250GB hard drive. There have been no big behavior changes on my part.

File Management & Backup

The idea here is to be terribly redundant with my data, and to have 3 copies of everything: one locally, one on an external drive, one in the cloud. This is lengthy, but I plan on referring students here to get some lessons on backup and archiving.

The Dropbox

  • All work from the current year sits in a folder in Dropbox called “Work.” Folders are named using the year and month, a job number, and description, like: 110101_073_FastCoAppStore. Inside that folder is either an InDesign package or an Illustrator package generated by ArtFiles.
  • I have another folder for personal projects. Folder structure is identical, without the job number.
  • A folder for other important assets, such as personal letterhead, logo, textures, etc.
  • Other important backups, such as the files I print from for the shop, a zip of all my fonts, and a zip of my Tumblr blog backup. Those two backups are updated in Dropbox once a month. I have a recurring calendar event to remind me.
  • Other things kept in Dropbox: LittleSnapper library, Aperture library, all Keynote files for all of my presentations, plain text files of blog posts that are currently in “draft” mode, assets for my classes, including syllabi, templates, etc.


Backup is seamless. Once a week I have SuperDuper transfer my Home directory, Applications folder, and Dropbox to an external hard drive. Then, the next night, SuperDuper clones that hard drive to a second drive. The whole time Backblaze is automatically backing up my entire internal drive.

So, at any time, I’ve got 5 copies of my data:

  • locally, on the internal hard drive
  • locally, on my external hard drive
  • locally on the cloned external hard drive
  • in the cloud, through Backblaze
  • in the cloud, through Dropbox

Every three months, when I do my quarterly taxes, I zip each individual job folder and upload it to my Amazon S3 account using Transmit, then drop them on a third external hard drive called “Archive.” I only connect Archive to the computer to do this quarterly backup. This puts my crucial data in 7 spots for the current year:

  • locally, on my internal hard drive
  • locally, on an external hard drive
  • locally on the cloned external hard drive
  • locally on the Archive drive (which I really should move off-site)
  • in the cloud, via Dropbox
  • in the cloud, via Backblaze
  • in the cloud, via Amazon S3

At the end of the year, I delete old job files out of Dropbox, and clone the external Archive. Through Dropbox, SuperDuper, and Backblaze’s automation, deleting out of Dropbox removes the copies from most places within a couple days. Most of these jobs are completed and no longer “live,” so I can have fewer copies. I’m down to 3 now:

  • locally, on the Archive drive
  • local Archive clone
  • in the cloud, via AmazonS3

Overkill? Probably, yeah. But storage is cheap, and this data is important, so why not?

Other Savory Bits

  • I read things on my Kindle
  • I watch things on my iPad
  • I do everything else on my iPhone
  • When working, I have my iPad on a stand with OmniFocus launched, using it like a todo dashboard. This usually keeps me on task.
  • I carry the Kindle, iPad, laptop, and iPhone on me. Total weight is a smidge under 6lbs, making it the same weight as my favorite book.
  • This totally boggles my mind.

The end. You should either be bored or dead by now. Thanks for reading.