Every week we post a new interview with someone about what software they use on their Mac, iPhone, or iPad. We do these interviews because not only are they fun, but a glimpse into what tools someone uses and how they use those tools can spark our imagination and give us an idea or insight into how we can do things better.
Who are you and what do you do?
I spend my life trying to figure out how the world works, both as a senior research leader at RAND Europe and as the father of two small boys. I’m based in Cambridge UK and my job is to help improve policy-making using research, which at the broadest level helps improve how society works. I specialise in medical research: how best to organise it, and how to estimate what benefits society can expect from it. I co-direct the Policy Research In Science and Medicine unit, and I’ve also done bits of research on electric cars and mapping organised crime. My research is available free from the RAND website. My more digestible thoughts are on Twitter.
My New Year’s resolution was to write about taking a researcher’s approach to life in general at ThinkingItThrough. It’s June and there are two posts. I’m counting that as success.
What is your current setup?
At RAND I use a 2011 MacBook Air that is struggling slightly for disk space, but which I love for it’s diminutive size and light weight. Surviving with the 64Gb drive is only made possible by Clusters, which provides on-disk compression. On my desk, the MacBook nestles between a 23″ Samsung monitor and a 19″ portrait-oriented Dell. The Samsung monitor had the chief advantage of being cheap when 23″ monitors were considered large and having a resolution that gave me the most pixels possible over single-link DVI. The Dell monitor used to be my main monitor, but is now being driven by a USB DisplayLink adapter to let me have three screens at once.
At work I live mostly, if somewhat uncomfortably, in Microsoft Office. Our reports often come straight out of Word, or occasionally go to InDesign for print and the iBook store. When I’m doing presentations solo, I like to use Keynote for its polished transitions and speed of assembly. If I’m collaborating with others, I’m back into PowerPoint.
At the start of projects, mind-mapping and diagramming happens in OmniGraffle. Data analysis and presentation happens mainly in R: a fantastic open source statistics and visualisation language. I wrangle R in RStudio, a similarly fantastic IDE that even includes integration with our corporate git server for version control and collaboration.
My life is kept on track by OmniFocus. Ideas coming from everywhere: my notebook, my email, and everywhere else get thrown into OmniFocus and processed. I’m lax at other aspects of GTD, but I depend on the unified inbox idea. Notes and thoughts get dashed into nvAlt for later reference.
For email I still use Apple Mail with Mail Act-On to let me file emails with keyboard shortcuts. For Twitter, Wren lets me write tweets without distraction the distraction of my timeline. Tweetbot lets me dive in when I want to find out what is happening.
At home, a 2010 Mac Pro drives a 23″ Apple Cinema Display and a Dell 20″ monitor adorned with a necklace our younger son made for me. The Dell monitor used to be our TV, but we caved in last year and got a conventional LCD TV when we couldn’t see the tennis balls at Wimbledon or the dancers’ feet on Strictly Come Dancing.
I justify the Mac Pro to keep up with the photos I shoot of our children and friends. My ‘proper’ camera — which harks back to a 35mm Olympus OM-2sp I owned years ago — is an Olympus OM-D EM-5. I love it. It takes great pictures, and each year I’m amazed that my iPhone is responsible for more and more of the photos in our annual photobook. It’s completely true that the best camera is the one that’s with you. I’ve been an Aperture user since version 1.0 and have 30,000 odd photos in my library. I’m looking at the new Photos app with a mixture of excitment and trepidation. A special mention goes to Posterino that allows us to whip together a photo montage each year for the family Christmas cards.
The rest of my home computing woefully under-uses the Mac Pro’s power, and tends to happen in Pages, Mail and Safari. Although, Byword provides the distraction-free writing environment where I’m drafting this. A big plus of the Mac Pro is the multiple drive bays. This means I can have a Time Machine backup and daily SuperDuper! clone all living inside the machine. The daily clone gets swapped every month with its twin that lives off-site. Flux provides a sunset for my screen to ensure I’m not too wired at bedtime.
What iPhone do you have?
I carry a 64Gb space grey iPhone 5S that increasingly feels like an extension of my brain (and is better backed up).
The flotsam and ephemora of family life makes elegant minimalism hard in the real world, so I seek refuge in the virtual. For keeping up with news, I use Unread, from where the interesting stuff goes to Instapaper. Byword captures my thoughts and Day One ensures I remember the everyday highlights and provides a photostream of the good things when the outlook is greyer. Headspace and Calm help keep those times at bay alongside Seconds Pro, which provides the soundtrack to my running. iPlayer Radio lets me get Radio 4 comedy and Annie Mac on demand, and Overcast provide podcasts. And because I’m English, there’s a folder of four weather apps including Dark Sky to tell me whether I need my coat for school pick up or not. The support team include 1Password, Kindle, and another set of what needs doing ruled by OmniFocus. And yes, our groceries come from Ocado — at least partly because they got their app so right.
What iPad do you have?
My wife and I share an original iPad that a colleague imported from the US before they were available in the UK. We use it mainly for streaming TV and reading in bed. We previously used an iPad 3, but Santa gave that to our sons for Christmas.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
I’ve been dreaming of retina displays since I was in college twenty five years ago. My first Mac — a Classic II — had an 8″ 512 x 342 black and white screen. But unlike other people I wasn’t dreaming of colour, I was dreaming of resolution. I wanted a screen like the the 300dpi college laser printer. After twenty years, my iPhone 4 delivered both – glorious colour and eye popping resolution that fit in my pocket. Now I’m waiting for screen prices to fall far enough that my Macs can join the retina future — hopefully that won’t take another twenty years.
There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.