January 05, 2009

Posted by John

Tagged software

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Newer: Test Or Die

My Setup and Software

The other day I read Alex Payne’s interview on what hardware and software he uses and thought it was interesting. I typically find posts like this intriguing because everyone is a bit different and you can learn so much from those differences. I decided I would take the time to post on my setup and how I get things done.

What hardware?

Below is a picture of my desk. I try to keep it as minimal as possible and everything that goes on it has a purpose. If you head over to flickr, you can see all the annotations I added explaining the various items.

My Desk

I use a Macbook Air as my only machine. It has a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of RAM. Occasionally, I wish for more power but it is such a sexy machine that I just overlook the deficiencies. Previously, I had a 17" Macbook Pro with 4GB of RAM so it was quite a switch going to a 2GB and a 13" screen. Thankfully I have a 24" Dell monitor that I work on most of the time so screen real estate is not an issue.

One of my favorite pieces on the desk above (other than my iPhone) is the Apple Wireless keyboard. I’ve always used ergonomic keyboards so i was hesitant to switch to something flat but I am in love. When I type on it, I feel like I’m in a beautiful meadow with gazelle’s dancing past me. It’s true.

I have a pair of Logitech speakers, nothing fancy but they sound good and allow me to occasionally crank up the music. I currently also use a Logitech corded mouse as I am having issues with the responsiveness of my Apple Wireless Mighty Mouse. I would be lost without my iPhone 3G and it truly follows me everywhere I go in my left front pocket. I feel naked when it is not there.

When I am on the go, I have a pair of Bose around ear headphones. They are truly the best pair of headphones I have ever owned. Music sounds magical in them.

For backups, I have a Western Digital Passport 120GB. I use Time Machine and try to backup every couple days.

And What Software?

Like Alex, I spend most of my time in Textmate, Terminal and Safari. No, I am not jumping on the Emacs bandwagon. Aesthetic is too important to me. Yes, I said it. Emacs looks ugly to me. Firefox is also ugly. That is all.

I have a gmail address that I’ve used for several years. It now forwards to my MobileMe account. I use Mail.app and my iPhone to check the MobileMe account and I use Gmail for SMTP so that it backs up all my sent messages as well. I use the inbox for things I need to do as soon as I get time. I have an archive folder that I archive all messages worth keeping and a waiting folder for items that I need to do someday but not right now. All the rest of my mail gets deleted. My inbox rarely gets over 5-10 emails.

I use iCal even though I hate it simply because it syncs with my iPhone beautifully. Syncing is also the reason I use Apple’s Address Book. I use iChat for IM (AIM and Jabber) and mostly my iPhone and occasionally the command line for Twitter. To keep up with tweets on the iPhone, I use text messages, Tweetie and Summizer (one of my favorite apps), occasionally opening up Twitter’s mobile version. I use iTunes for playing music and last.fm for tracking it.

I love TextPander for email signatures and phone numbers. I use growl for iTunes, autotest notifications and various other things. We use DropBox for sharing files at Ordered List and I often keep current working files there just to have them automatically backed up offsite. I use Skitch for screenshots and iShowU for screencasts.

For tickets, we (Ordered List) use Lighthouse and are keeping our eye on Sifter (even have a paid account because we think it is going to be great, just waiting on an API). For code, I use GitHub and love it. I use Hoptoad for exceptions and New Relic for performance monitoring. For invoicing, we (Ordered List) use Freshbooks. It gets the job done. I also like Blinksale for invoicing.

Probably my most coveted web app is a simple note application that I created. My wife and I use it a lot but it is not really public as of yet. She uses it for recipes and I use it as my digital brain. I keep track of all the millions of ideas that I have in it and use it almost hourly.

As far as the social internet is concerned, I use Twitter, Flickr, and Delicious almost every day.

Enough about me. What software, hardware and web apps do you use? If you have a blog, post an article and link to it in the comments. If not, a comment with some details will do. I’m curious to see how others go about their business.


  1. Thanks for this post John. Its always interesting to read other developers gear and software setups. Looking forward to seeing some screenshots of the notetaking app when you are ready to reveal. I love seeing some of the “in-house” tools developers use to make their lives easier.

    Take care.

  2. +1 on the wireless keyboard. I have the exact same model and it’s like butta. As for emacs, I don’t know why more emacs users don’t bother to set their fonts to something decent. The defaults make me want to stick forks in my eyesockets. :-)



  3. I share much of the same setup that you have. New 13in Macbook with new 24 cinema display. Spotless desk. iPhone, iPod (more storage for music and external drive), Time Capsule (500GB), coaster (made by my wife, for my tea in the mornings), apple keyboard + mouse (wireless is upstairs connected to mac mini + TV), and my volume control for the speakers mounted to the wall.

    I spend the majority of my day with terminal open (app console, mysql, and general window to traverse and open things based on symlinks). All code is done in textmate, with projects managed in both SVN/Git. My browser of choice is Safari, for the same reason you mentioned above: FF is ugly. I will use FF for debugging, but that’s all. I also keep Billings open to track my time and projects. I use Mail.app, iCal, Address Book, and iChat – all syncing to Mobile me (our computers + iPhones).

    Hmm. That was fun.

  4. The elusive combination of software developer and country music fan. I guess there’s two of us.

  5. @Robert – I’ll probably move it to a VPS and give it a fresh coat of paint and then announce it here. Definitely sometime in the next few months.

    @Alex – Maybe the next time we are in the same town you’ll have to give me an emacs run through. I’m curious, just haven’t seen anything yet that has convinced me to switch.

    @Nate – Good setup. Sounds like we do have similar preferences. And you make a good point, it is fun to talk about your own setup.

  6. @Don – Hahaha. Awesome comment. Yep, I’m a country music fan but my music taste is not limited to that. I listen to pretty much anything.

  7. John, I’d been planning to write up my setup after reading Al3x’s interview and seeing your writeup inspired me to actually do it. Can be found here . Many similarities.

  8. @Chris – wow. Great post. I’ll be bookmarking some of that tomorrow when I’m not on my iPhone. :)

  9. hmm looks something like my desktop, except i got me a x60 (faster+cheaper+smaller+lighter ;) ) and m$ ergonomic keyboard 4000

    subnotebook + large screen = win :)

  10. How big is your LCD? 22’’ ?
    Did you try two smaller LCD then one big?

  11. John,

    I have no idea how tall you are, but that display looks a bit low to me. If your neck can’t be straight when you’re looking at the bottom of the screen, you should consider raising the display. At work I have two 19" Dell monitors that have fairly good vertical adjustment but they’re still sitting on two packs of paper in order to get the height “correct”, since I’m 6’ 3".

    This (slightly odd) site seems to have it about as the workstation ergonomics people here tell it:

  12. I enjoyed reading that, I love reading what other people are using to dev on.

  13. Nice.

    You know, the ONLY reason I’m using Firefox over Safari is because of delicious extension. How do you use delicious daily? Actually on the main delicious site? Or is there a Safari alternative that I’m not aware of?

    I have an iMac and a MBP. In retrospect, I would have beefed up the MBP and bought an external monitor. But I guess it’s not that bad of a problem to have :-)

  14. @Ryan – I use the bookmarklet for bookmarking and a Safari Stand Quick Search (think FF bookmark keywords) to search my bookmarks by tag. I simply type ‘tag foo’ in the url bar and it takes me to delicious.com/jnunemaker/foo.

  15. I’m curious as to whether you use any specific application for a ToDo list and in particular how do you stay focused (other than wearing the Bose headphones)?

  16. @Chris – My primary todo list is my email inbox. My code/projects todo lists are either in the code (think TODO) or they are in a ticket system. My secondary todo list is kept in my note app. It is literally a textarea and I use an * to denote each item as a todo. I titled the page Homepage and set it as my homepage in all my browsers. I also have a simplistic iPhone version of the note app so I can get to the list on the go with my iPhone.

    I’ve used just about every todo app out there and I’ve found that nothing is as efficient as plain text and the most important thing is simply to keep the list in front of you as often as possible. I use my note app so much, that it just made sense to keep my action items in it, where I will constantly happen across them.

    I also have links to other pages from my homepage for things to do when my “todo” lists are empty (yeah right!), such as apps/projects to work on, music/books to buy, etc.

    My todo list actually stays pretty small. A few emails in my inbox, a few items in my note app and the rest in a ticket system of some sort. This works really well for me. I have found plain text liberating.

  17. I’m sporting a pretty default setup. Except: Being able to adjust the table so I can work in stand-up position. Sitting down all day makes me slow, unconcentrated and generally hurts. That occasional 30-45 minute stand-up makes a huge difference.

    If you haven’t tried it yet, get started!

  18. @Harry – What kind of desk do you have that is adjustable? I often work on my knees to get away from sitting but this is highly uncomfortable.

  19. I had some cheap, crappy desk before that had troubles adjusting, but I’m in the middle of a move, so at the moment I’m just finding a place to put my laptop when I need to stand up.

    So others, please suggest good desks.

  20. Nearly an hour after beginning, I have something to share. Thanks for this post as I do love seeing setups, especially home office setups. Pretty sure there is an app idea in there…

    Hardware and Software: An epic in pasting links

  21. Want to get rid of the mouse altogether? ( Ok, maybe not. ) then I suggest you look into Quiksilver. Command+Spacebar ) (Alt by default ) gives you easy access to every file and application on your computer with a very smart searching / indexing mechanism. There are a ton of plugins available to control most of the apps you listed.

    I swear, it will change your life.


  22. @Jonathan – I was a big time quicksilver user for a while but since leopard I just use spotlight to launch apps. I never got that much into the triggers and such of quicksilver but it is a really cool app. I just don’t need it anymore.

  23. Great post, I’m a sucker for details like these on the tools people use on a daily basis.

    I too am keen to see your little notes app, sounds like a simple elegant solution. I’m currently using a TaskPaper document synched with DropBox which is working well for my todo lists, just need an iPhone client to enable editing on that side of things (with DropBox I can only view).

  24. Excellent post! I’m definately going to tryout iShowU. I ended up documenting my own setup here

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Authored by John Nunemaker (Noo-neh-maker), a programmer who has fallen deeply in love with Ruby. Learn More.


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