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Brian Hamilton’s Mac and iOS setup

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.

New setup interviews are posted every Monday; follow us on RSS or Twitter to stay up to date.


Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Brian Hamilton, a film student living in Boston, MA. Thanks to Northeastern University’s co-op program, I’ve spent the last six months as the videographer for a local business school and will be returning to class come January. I also write film reviews, do freelance photography/videography work, and host a few podcasts: Garrulous, with Kyle Seth Gray, and The ADR Podcast, wherein I bring a guest on to discuss a movie. I blog occasionally, but most of my writing output is on Twitter.

What is your current Mac setup?

Brian Hamilton's desk
Editor’s note: You can find Brian’s OS X wallpaper here.

My mid-2012 13″ Macbook Pro spends most of its time in a Henge Dock — so much so that when I upgrade, I’m seriously considering a desktop computer. It’s connected to a 24″ Acer monitor. I waver between an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and an imported Chinese mechanical keyboard with Blue switches, which my roommates despise, but my Magic Mouse is a permanent fixture on my desk.

I use a Blue Yeti for podcasting and recording voiceovers. In my experience, it’s a great mic if you take the right precautions. I keep some of my favorite knicknacks and posters around for inspiration, including a few vinyl toys and some artwork my girlfriend made for me.

Brian Hamilton's desk

80% of the stuff on my desk — including the desk itself — was bought from friends or on Craigslist. College, everybody.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

Twitter is constantly open on my main desktop. I’m the furthest thing from a Twitter completionist as I use it almost as a CB radio that I tune into every few minutes to see what’s happening right now. As controversial as the official Twitter app is, it’s perfectly fine for my relatively light needs. Apple’s Messages app is another constantly open app. Since iOS 8, this app has been infinitely more capable.

Byword is my Markdown editor of choice. It’s admittedly the only app of its kind I’ve spent any time with, but my needs are so light (and the app is so flexible) that I feel like I don’t need to do any more testing. The minimalist, distraction-free design of Byword has helped preserve my sanity more than any other feature on the Mac, to the point where I start to get a bit of anxiety when I see my friends writing a paper in Word. Every time I try to explain Markdown to them, their inevitable “Why the hell would I want to write in HTML?!” always makes me chuckle.

Speaking of Markdown, Dropbox goes without saying — it’s where all of my documents live so I can write on any of my devices. The most important thing that Dropbox does for me is power Mailbox, my mail app of choice. Its gestures are intuitive, the app is beautifully designed, and its — dare I say it — philosophy about email has changed how I deal with my inbox. My favorite touch about the app is that when your inbox is empty, you get a gorgeous picture and a little reminder that “You’re done.” Sigh of relief.

1Password also goes without saying. It is the perfect app.

Safari’s iCloud features are invaluable to me, so that’s the browser I stick with.

Day One started as a way to do a big emotional brain dump at the end of the day, but lately I’ve started to see it as my own personal Twitter. Instead of >1000 word musings about my day, I’ll fire up its menu bar app and throw in a quip about something small. Speaking of my menu bar, Bartender makes it a minimalist’s dream.

I held off on music streaming for as long as I could, but as soon as I tried Rdio last year, I was hooked. In addition to having all of my old collection in the cloud, discovering new music with no regard to cost is definitely worth the $5 a month I pay as a student. For the few things that aren’t on Rdio, I use a nifty app called TuneSpan to keep only what I need from my iTunes library on my Mac — the rest lives on an external hard drive.

After a hard drive scare while abroad, I went whole hog into backing up. The Sweet Setup’s trifecta of Time Machine, Super Duper!, and Backblaze keeps my data safe and secure. A 3 TB hard drive on my desk has partitions for both Time Machine and some miscellaneous external storage. I keep my Super Duper! clone on a portable hard drive across town at my girlfriend’s house.

For podcasting, Skype, Ecamm Call Recorder, and GarageBand are the apps that keep my shows afloat. My video editing app of choice is Avid Media Composer — it’s how I make my living.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

Aside from a boom arm for podcasting, which I’m saving up for, the next steps in upgrading my setup are all on the software front. My ideal setup would be one where I have everything automated, with apps that talk to each other and workflows that make sense. Keyboard Maestro and Hazel are on my shopping list.

That said, I wouldn’t object to more RAM and a better display.


What iPhone do you have?

Brian Hamilton's iPhone 5s
Editor’s note: you can find Brian’s wallpaper here.

I bought a 32 GB Space Grey 5s the day it came out last year. I wish Apple had stuck with the darker color scheme of the 5, but I can’t imagine ever owning a Silver or Gold model. I’m also hoping that Apple doesn’t abandon the 4″ iPhones in the future — this form factor is my ideal size for a pocket-sized device.

Which apps do you use the most, and why?

Clear keeps me productive and organized. It’s built perfectly for the iPhone, with its simple gestures and bold, beautiful colors — the same reason my calculator app of choice is Numerical. Even though I could probably do more with a more robust to-do list manager, simplicity is key in my eyes.

I prefer the Apple Maps app for its look and integration with Siri, though I still keep Google Maps on hand for public transit directions.

Again, the official Twitter app is fine for my needs, despite its recent controversy.

Dark Sky‘s notifications are always something that my friends point out whenever they see them pop up on my phone: “Your phone can tell you exactly when it rains? What app is that?!” Then their jaws are on the floor when I pull up the app’s radar view.

I waste way more time on Reddit in the Alien Blue app than I care to admit.

PocketCasts is the one app that gets the biggest workout on my iPhone. The app’s focus on artwork, along with simple and intuitive gestures, make it a joy to use. I have 30 shows that I listen to every week, so I almost constantly have a podcast playing no matter what I’m doing. My favorite thing about Pocketcasts is that, when paired with my Pebble and Mini Jambox, I can forget that my iPhone exists and mainline as many shows as I possibly can while I go about my day.

Most of the apps I keep on my homescreen are for communicating with friends; it’s easily the most important thing I do with my phone. Messages, Facebook and Messenger, Snapchat, Twitter, and the Phone app all get about equal usage. The fact that I can talk to anybody anywhere, using a device that can fit into my pocket, gives me chills every so often.

Which app could you not live without?

I’m tempted to say Pocketcasts or Messages, but I could honestly not live without Siri, even if it’s not technically an app. I constantly dictate messages comma set timers comma and even write articles with Siri period. Its integration with my Mini Jambox’s microphone is like a little glimpse into a hyperconnected smartphone future.


Which iPad do you have?

Brian Hamilton's iPad

My first generation 16 GB Black iPad Mini desperately needs an upgrade. I’m going to hold out until Touch ID on a Mini is affordable — the Mini 3 is just not worth it right now. Just one more year, little A5-powered buddy.

How are you using your iPad on a daily basis?

Here’s how I see it — my MacBook Pro and iPhone are computers I use out of necessity. My laptop is for more powerful and specific tasks while my iPhone is for just about everything while I’m out and about. My iPad is the computer I want to use.

To that point, my iPad homescreen mirrors my iPhone’s almost exactly, though I switched out photo apps for video and added Byword and iBooks to my dock. I don’t see this as having a bigger iPhone — rather my iPhone is a more portable clone of my iPad. Especially now that SMS and phone calls can be relayed to the iPad on iOS 8, I rarely ever need to keep my phone around.

Which apps do you use the most, and why?

I use my iPad largely the same way I use my iPhone and MacBook Pro, but in a way I enjoy using. I write in Byword (with the incredible Origami Workstation and Apple Bluetooth Keyboard at this site’s recommendation), read RSS feeds with Unread, journal in Day One, and keep lists in Clear. Then there are games like Year Walk, Device 6, Space Age, and Monument Valley that are shining examples of what’s possible on an iPad with a big, beautiful screen. Sometimes I trick myself into doing work by using the iPad simply because it’s such a fun device to use.

With a bigger screen, I need to decide to take it out and use it for a while, rather than grab my phone whenever I want to play a game of Crossy Road. I get to take a mindful break and unwind for a bit with a single app on the screen, without the clutter and urgency of a laptop screen.

A lot of people have suggested that I upgrade to an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus because of how I use my iPad, but I think those devices have the worst of both worlds: not big enough to unwind with but too big to be a casual-glance, everyday carry device.

I bring my iPad around with me inside a handmade wool sleeve from a now defunct Etsy seller with a Field Notes notebook and a cheap stand from a dollar store. An upgrade to the Twelve South Compass is due.


There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.