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Brian McCabe’s Mac, iOS, and Watch Setup

In this series, 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?

My name is Brian McCabe, and I am a technology Consulting Director in a global professional services firm. I’ve been working in IT for over 30 years (how scary is that?!) having started off as a trainee Cobol programmer on ICL mainframes. Most of my career has centred around the deployment and management of Oracle software. I spend a lot of my time on the road, traveling mainly around the UK (with a few international trips) meeting clients and visiting our London HQ. The Apple setup works well for the mix of work locations, although recent global events have allowed me to focus more on my home setup.

I live in Manchester, UK with my partner Hayley, our two grown-up children, and the family dog, Colin. He is an Irish Terrier and can be seen on my Mac wallpaper.

What is your current setup

Brian McCabe's desk

I’m currently using a 2019 16” MacBook Pro, which is a recent upgrade from its 15” predecessor. I much prefer the typing experience on the new (old) keyboard and the slight increase in size is negligible, and very much welcomed with my rapidly degrading eyesight!

As you can see, my home working setup relegates the MBP to a secondary display and I have a few external accessories:

  • Samsung 34 SJ55W ultra wide LED monitor — a bit of a Black Friday impulse purchase if I’m being honest. I like it and it has cut down on my use of MacOS Spaces, but I wish I had opted for a curved display now. Having that size of screen so close to your face can result in excessive lateral movements to find what you are looking for! I use Moom to set up my main screen such that the main working area occupies the first 60% of the screen (left to right) which is immediately in front of where I sit. The remaining 40% is split in half vertically, with my calendar at the top and OmniFocus at the bottom. When docked, the MBP screen is used as my “communications centre” with email, chat (my firm are all-in with Google Suite), plus an increasing number of web meetings as it means I will be looking more directly at the camera if Google Meet / Skype / Zoom runs on that screen.
  • Apple Magic Keyboard with number pad in space grey. I love this keyboard. I know some people chastise the number pad, but I do a lot of number work and have also started to extend onto those keys for Alfred shortcuts.
  • Apple Magic Trackpad 2 in space grey. I had three different Magic Mouses (mice?) before this, and I honestly don’t know why I persevered with them for so long. They were noisy, clunky, but looked pretty good. The Trackpad is a recent acquisition, and so far, so good. It certainly seems more effective than the previous pointy things.
  • I use a Jabra Bluetooth/USB hands-free speaker for conference calls / Hangout meetings. The sound quality is rather basic, but it does the job. It’s out of shot on these photos as my son was “borrowing” it at the time.
  • Apple HomePod in space grey. It provides me with music / podcasts whilst working, but it is frustratingly rubbish at being a wireless speaker and simply doesn’t work with Google Hangouts (hence the Jabra).
  • Peeping between the MBP and the monitor, you may glimpse the base of the Rode PSA1 boom arm. This is unveiled when I record a few podcasts from my home office. These center on Oracle technology and/or music and are mainly internal to my company.
  • My office desk is a recent COVID-19 stimulated acqusition. We use sit-stand desks in our firm’s offices and I decided that, if I am likely to be spending many more hours in this home office, it needed to work for me. It’s a Jarvis Bamboo desk from Fully.com and I love it. I split my time roughly 50/50 between sitting or standing mode. I use the AUKEY desk pad to soften things up a little.
  • My chair is a Herman Miller Setu in graphite. I love that too.
  • Under the desk is a power bar, some cable tidy trays, and the excellent TwelveSouth StayGo USB-C hub, which powers most things and connects the MBP and the external display.

Brian McCabe's desk

Where can we find your macOS wallpaper?

In my photos library! The MacBook has my dog, Colin, on it. The larger monitor is showing a picture of some mountains near Cape Town, South Africa. I shot this on vacation a few years ago and, although it is woefully under-exposed, I quite like the moody outcome.

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

We’re all-in on the Google Suite for work, so it’s Gmail, Calendar, Meet, Chat, G-Suite, etc. We’ve also recently deployed Kanbanchi, which is a G-Suite extension for task/project planning and I am absolutely loving it right now. Fantastic for team collaboration.

The MacBook is fairly locked down for security and data loss prevention reasons, so I am limited on what I can store outside the company network.

That said, my other key software packages are:

  • OmniFocus (with frequent flips per year between that and Things 3), which sync across all of my devices.
  • iThoughtsX for mind-mapping. I keep stumbling across exciting features — this product is so deep.
  • Day One for journaling, and also as a very effective meeting notes app for the multitude of meetings I attend each week. The bill-in time-stamping, templates, and a very reliable sync make it an ideal meeting mate.
  • Apple Notes as my knowledge repository. I have tinkered with Bear, Drafts, GoodNotes, and others, but their reliance on iCloud Drive (rather than just iCloud Sync) means I am limited cross-platform as per my note above about data loss protection. Apple Notes is a tad basic, but it works for me and syncs without the need for persistent storage in iCloud Drive.
  • Alfred — mainly for keyboard shortcuts, which I use a lot of, and the extended clipboard.
  • TextExpander — my typing is woeful, so it helps mask that and generally speeds things up.
  • Bartender to help with the OCD.
  • Moom as mentioned above for window management.
  • 1Password, and not just for passwords (keychain alone would suffice for that);
  • Be Focused Pro for my Pomodoro sessions, which I need to get more disciplined about, especially now I am at home more.
  • Reeder to consume news, although I’ll probably switch to NetNewsWire when it starts to support Feedly on MacOS in version 5.1.
  • And for podcasting, it’s my Zoom H6 for recording, Audacity for editing, and Auphonic for post-production tidy ups.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I would love to be able to justify an iMac Pro. I hear so many good things about them and, as someone who is all-in on the Apple platform, it feels like a gap.

Sadly, when the current travel lockdown ends, I suspect I will be doing most of my work away from the home environment again, so it’s hard to justify the expenditure. The 16” MBP works just fine for everything I throw at it.

What iPhone do you have?

Brian McCabe's iPhone

I am still working off of a black iPhone 7 Plus. It’s a little dated (primarily because it is supplied by my employer on a 3-year replacement cycle!), but it works for me. I’m due a replacement later this year, so am interested to see what happens in terms of the iPhone 9, 12 or whatever is going to be released next.

My home screen is intentionally bereft of App icons. I am very easily distracted, so forcing myself to swipe a few times to get to Twitter, Reddit, or NetNewsWire means I might have a pang of guilt before dropping into a world of procrastination!

I have Phone, Gmail and OmniFocus, plus a small selection of frequently used apps in the one folder at the bottom. Everything else is spread across three further screens of apps, loosely grouped by type.

Where can we find your wallpaper online?

It’s a photo I scraped off the web somewhere of Ian Curtis, the ex-lead singer of the band Joy Division. I also have it as the wallpaper on my iPad too.

What apps do you use the most, and why?

  • OmniFocus, Gmail, Google Chat and Calendar for work.
  • Overcast is my podcast player of choice, and I use Day One every day.
  • NetNewsWire keeps me updated on the news.
  • Apple Maps has replaced Google Maps as my personal satellite navigation whilst I walk the streets of London, trying to avoid public transport and get my step-count up.
  • I have a few Shortcuts set up to control Homekit, prepare meeting note templates in Day One, open the gates to my driveway, and other similar repetitive tasks. I think I could do more with Shortcuts.
  • The banter in CARROT Weather abuses me on a daily basis, whilst the Amazon app does the same to my bank balance.

Which app could you not live without?

OmniFocus and, sadly, Gmail.

Which iPad do you have?

Brian McCabe's iPad

I have the 11-inch 2018 iPad Pro in space grey, with the latest Apple Pencil (mainly used for the 2020 Focus planner), and the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio.

I plan to upgrade the Smart Folio in May when Apple release it, but will stick with my current iPad Pro for now.

The home screen is busier than that of my phone, and I have managed to have a lot of apps on a single screen so as to avoid having to scroll through pages. Yes, it’s the exact opposite of my phone setup, other than having the same wallpaper on both devices.

I have Today Widgets for Shortcuts, OmniFocus, CARROT Weather, Batteries, Google Calendar and a few others that I reference regularly.

The most-used shortcut is the “Open Planner” shortcut which takes me to the 2020 Focus Planner in GoodNotes. I use it several times per day and have found it to be a fine companion to OmniFocus and Day One as the three legs of my productivity stool.

The other Apps tend to mirror what I have on my MacBook and my iPhone.

How are you using your iPad on a daily basis?

Mainly to consume content in NetNewsWire, Discourse, Twitter, etc. I know it is wrong, but I read my iPad in bed at nighttime to catch up on the day’s events away from my direct working environment.

At work, I often switch to the iPad from my MacBook to focus on specific tasks where it is capable of doing them, just for bit of variety. I use the Apple Smart Keyboard cover and have dabbled with the Brydge Pro in the past, but it felt too much like a MacBook. I fear for any further convergence of the two platforms as it may dilute and devalue both of them, in my opinion.

What apps do you use the most, and why?

I do all of my scheduled reviews in OmniFocus on my iPad as it is more usable than the iPhone version for this and feels like a more focussed experience than doing it on my MacBook.

I also use the Focus 2020 Planner and Day One several times per day on the iPad.

Which app could you not live without?


What Apple Watch do you have?

I have the 44mm series 4 Apple Watch and wear it every day. I am trying to get fit and run 3-4 times per week and keep a keen eye on my step count and activity rings.

I also use Overcast for listening to podcasts whilst out running without my iPhone.

I have skipped the series 5, but may be tempted by the series 6 when it comes out later this year. Prior to getting my current watch, I had the original series 0 which has been passed around to other family members since. It now sits in a drawer somewhere.

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