My setup

The hardware I use

For the last few months I’ve used a Surface Pro 4 as my work computer, and between that and my two personally owned iOS devices (an iPhone 6S and an iPad Air 2) I’m becoming a big fan of touch screen computers with optional keyboards and some sort of stylus.

I have two desktop computers in my study at home that I bounce between depending on what I’m working on (and which share peripherals and a 4TB NAS drive). One is a 2011 Mac Mini with everything replaceable upgraded as far as it will go. The other started off as a Dell Power edge T20, but has also gone through a fair bit of internal customisation (which is still very much ongoing). Neither computer is particularly powerful, but between them they do most of what I need to do when I’m not on the move, although I’m starting to think that the Mac will need replacing soon.

As far as peripherals go, I use an Apple Magic Mouse and a Logitech solar powered keyboard at home, and generic peripherals at work (which makes me sad – I really need to start bringing in my own keyboard I think). The Logitech keyboard can handle three inputs, which means I can toggle between my two desktop computers, plus my work machine for days when I’m working from home.

At home I also have an array of older laptops, and a growing collection of small computers that started with a single Raspberry Pi and now includes a variety of other things that are used as media players, web servers, and low-powered alternatives to my main computers. It’s a rare day where I don’t use an iPad or a Raspberry Pi, but an increasingly common day when I don’t sit down in front of my desktop computer.

When I’m on the move I carry around a variety of adaptors and cables which between them will connect my laptop and iPad to pretty much every type of screen or presentation device. For this I have a Grid-IT, which now also houses a Raspberry Pi Mini running LibreElec which I connect to the TV in my hotel room when I’m travelling.

For playing my growing record collection I have an Ion Audio profile record player that will plug into my computer to record from vinyl and also plugs into my stereo.

The software I use

At work I’m running Windows 10 on the Surface, which I’m liking a lot more than I thought I would. It’s not my OS of choice, but it will do.

At home It’s a mix of MacOS, iOS, Ubuntu and the Raspbian flavour of Debian.

Other software I use that I feel is somewhat noteworthy includes:

  • Evernote – I use this on every device I own, mostly to take notes in meetings and training sessions, and then to revise/reflect later. A lot of my notes are now photographs of whiteboards and other hand drawn scribbles, which Evernote handles very well.
  • Atom – A text editor that handles Markdown well, and can preview and export to PDF. This pretty much handles all of my writing/blogging work within one application. I also use Pandoc to convert to PDF, HTML and/or .docx if required.
  • Byword – another Markdown editor that I’m using on iOS. I’m writing this post in Byword, because I do most of my writing on my iPad now.
  • Trello – I use this for my to do list, and it’s a good way to visualise the planning and execution of any task based work.
  • Dropbox – Cloud storage and syncing software to ensure I can access everything everywhere.
  • IFTTT and Buffer – To automate as much as possible. Between them they handle a lot of the seemingly clever things in my digital life, and explain why I seem to be able to post to social media sites at times when I appear to be elsewhere.
  • NVivo – As a lot of the data I work with is words rather than numbers this is proving somewhat invaluable. I’ve mainly used the Mac version, but have started using the Windows version at work to analyse large data sets and drive decision making.
  • Virtualbox – Because no-one needs as many physical computers as I had before virtualisation was a thing (although thinking about it, I hardly use this now – probably as a result of my change of role).

My dream setup

I’ve carried around at least one internet enabled device for years now, and I think I was up to 4 at one point. The thought of not being able to access the internet everywhere seems increasingly archaic, and anything I do buy needs to work fully with the world of synchronisation and immediate connection that we now live in.

I used to have a dream where I could present multimedia from my phone onto a huge screen. That dream is here now, as are many other things that once seemed part of science fiction. I suspect wearable IT and the Internet of Things (interesting concept, terrible name) will plays a larger part in my life soon, but at the moment these are areas I research with interest but have not really experimented with practically.

I miss building and upgrading computers (to the point where I have one computer that largely exists specifically to scratch that itch), but at the same time was impressed with the time it took to set up my most recent Mac to be an exact copy of the old one (about 20 minutes). I’m also impressed with the ease of use of the new barebones systems that just require memory, a hard drive and an operating system to function. I set up my latest Ubuntu machine in under an hour (from delivery of parts to first boot), and it’s now perfectly feasible to have a relatively fast sub-£150 desktop computer.

I am enjoying using touch screen computers a lot more than I thought I would, and am probably going to become one of those people who leaves fingerprints on the screens of (non-touchscreen) computers soon. I can do most things on my iPad, but I want to be able to do everything soon. I am also looking at the larger iPads and seeing a device that I could feasibly use for 90% of what I currently use computers for (the last 10% is tricky, and deserves a blog post at some point soon).

I would also like a solar powered mouse (or some other sort of pointing device). The Apple Magic Trackpad has enough surface area for solar panels (as long as they can be overlayed by glass), and having a device of this sort would remove the need to use batteries, which would make me very happy. Apple’s new rechargeable keyboard and mouse go part of the way towards achieving this, but I think there is still more to do.

Last updated 19th April 2017