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Chris Powell’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.

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Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Chris Powell, and I live in Bellingham, Washington. I’ve been a professional technologist for about 20 years now. Currently, I’m the IT Manager for the College of Business and Economics at Western Washington University. I am also an instructor with Whatcom Community College’s Community Education program, where I teach various technology classes. I have a freelance technology consulting business outside of my work with WWU and WCC, and I’m a co-host of Bellingham Podcast Media: Tech where we talk about life in Bellingham and discuss all kinds of technology topics.

To balance my tech life, I like BBQ grilling at home, finding creative ways to get 10,000 steps each day, and researching ways to hack my life. I’m the uncrowned king of all ’80s TV trivia, and have been spotted playing bass and electric guitar live at various venues around Whatcom County.

What is your current setup?

Chris Powell's desk

At Western, I have a maxed-out 2015 Apple Mac Mini (1TB Fusion Drive and 16GB RAM) with two Dell 24″ monitors and a dual-monitor stand I found for a very reasonable price on Amazon. A Logitech K811 controls the desktop Mac Mini, my phone and an iPad Pro 12.9 (not pictured). One keyboard to rule them all! I’m not a fan of wires or cables, if you couldn’t tell by now.

Chris Powell's keyboard

Where can we find your OS X wallpaper?

You can find my wallpaper here. However, I use the Multi Monitor Wallpaper app from Hobbyist Software to span both monitors. Since my office doesn’t have any windows, this is my view while working!

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

  • WWU is Microsoft-heavy, so I have to use use Outlook 2016 for work email.
  • I balance professional and family calendar appointments with Fantastical 2. Both desktop and mobile versions are ubiquitous for me to handle the busy-ness of life in a clean, intuitive fashion.
  • Chrome is my browser of choice. I have a personal Google account, and I enjoy the extension and bookmark sync functionality with desktop and mobile versions.
  • Slack is so much nicer than email megathreads. I collaborate with colleagues, clients, and friends on it. I have it installed on all my devices.
  • Evernote is my digital file cabinet. I’ve thrown so many computer procedures, mental notes, and other tech-related tidbits into my Premium account, I can rest easy knowing I can recall it with just a couple of taps on my keyboard. Evernote has saved my bacon on many occasions when I’m meeting with a client and need to pull up an important bit of info to fix their computer. The information is right there waiting for me.
  • I’ve been enjoying Skitch for a few years now. It’s a fabulous photo annotation tool. One screenshot with arrows and a few big, bold words instead of slogging through a 10-step bullet procedure. My clients appreciate the visual solutions.
  • TextExpander saves me minutes, if not hours, by autofilling long-winded text with a few simple keys.
  • TeamViewer allows me to help clients remotely without taking over their computer. It helps when they can show me what they’re experiencing, and they can sit back and watch me work my magic fixing their issue. I was sad to see TeamViewer’s recent headlines, and may need to look for an alternative solution for my remote access needs.
  • PDF Expert is a monstrous app for working with PDFs — so much more than the default Apple Preview solution. I still haven’t discovered all PDF Expert can do.
  • Pixelmator is a reasonably-priced image editor that allows me to edit and augment photos without having to dance with Adobe.
  • I’ve found DeskConnect to be a great way to take a screenshot or photo from my phone and -blammo- it shows up on my desktop. I’m optimistic about its integration capabilities with iOS and macOS in the upcoming months.
  • When I’m able to take a mental break, I have the desktop Pocket app installed to read through some saved articles.
  • Magnet from Crowd Cafe is a great tool to organize all my open application windows on my two desktops into a nice compartmentalized format.
  • I just recently discovered the Scenery app from Unsigned Integer. It’s a great mock-up template solution with relevant, usable examples included in the free download. Really jazzes up my mobile screenshots.
  • I’m volleying between Ulysses and Byword for my long-form writing. Both have great features, and I can’t decide which one will be my go-to writing app yet. I’m leaning toward Ulysses since I can publish directly to Medium.
  • I found AppCleaner to be the quickest, cheapest solution to uninstalling all those software apps I check out, but don’t want to keep on my computer.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

My workplace setup is pretty darn close to ideal. I don’t need a gargantuan six-display, neon-lit workspace with a clicky-clack keyboard to enjoy getting my work done. Give me a Dell UltraSharp 34″ Monitor with a Mac Mini mounted to the back (with my Logitech K811, of course) and I’m good to go.


What iPhone do you have?

Chris Powell's iPhone

I have a 64GB Space Gray iPhone 6S Plus (nicknamed “Colossus”). It is housed in a leather Apple case, and looks stylin’.

Way back in the day, I was one of the first to upgrade to a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 — the first “phablet.” It was pretty cool to see people gawk at the size of the phone’s screen. Now they’re everywhere, and I’ve gotten used to the large form factor. It kind of eliminated my need for an iPad Mini when I bought the 6S Plus.

Where can we find your wallpaper online?

I found my iPhone wallpaper here. I’ve always been a fan of dark wallpaper, plus this ties in with my freelance branding; I’m the technology ace up your sleeve. (Also, Motorhead’s Ace of Spades is one of my favorite songs to play during a gym workout.)

What apps do you use the most, and why?

My iPhone is my my most frequently-used tech device. It’s my communication resource, my jukebox, my quick research concierge, my driving assistant, and my get-fleeting-thoughts-outta-my-head solution. Not in that order, of course. I use the following on a regular basis:

  • Spark for important email checks and quick replies.
  • Fantastical 2 for professional and family scheduling.
  • Apple Reminders, which integrate nicely with Fantastical 2.
  • Apple Music, because their catalogue of tunes is extensive.
  • Pocket Casts, because I like the interface and I listen to downloaded podcasts when I’m walking our dog in the evening.
  • Evernote, because it’s my digital file cabinet, and I’m two clicks away from jotting down a thought before I forget it.
  • Google Chrome, because it syncs nicely with my personal Google account, and any bookmarked site on my work desktop shows up on my phone.
  • Apple Maps, because it’s a Tuesday, and I’ll probably download Google Maps on a Thursday. They’re both equally awesome. There are times when I just want to have less installed on my phone. Today is one of those days.
  • Apple News, because it integrates nicely with my iPad News app, and because Apple is getting better at delivering content. I used to throw all my RSS feeds into Feedly, but I’m enjoying the experience of flipping through news stories on the News App.
  • Dropbox, because all the photos I take get automatically uploaded to our 1TB Pro space.
  • Amazon, because it seems to be the only place where I shop nowadays, and it’s a great comparison shopper when we’re in brick & mortar stores.
  • Calm, beacuse I take quiet time during my lunch break at work to clear my mind and get ready for the afternoon.
  • VSCO, because it’s an awesome photo editor, and has nice integration with the Instagram and Tweetbot apps.
  • Slack, because it rules.
  • Automatic, because I have a device plugged into my car to track my mileage and alert me to what exactly that Check Engine light is for.
  • Fitbit, because 10,000 steps a day is cool and the silent vibrating alarm is a great way to wake up without disturbing my wife.

I don’t like icons on my homescreen, which is similar to my desktop workstation mindset. To me, icons are clutter, and there is a place for clutter. In this case, an app folder. Sure, it’s one or two more taps and swipes, but for a clean layout, it’s the opportunity cost I’m willing to make with my technology.

Which app could you not live without?

I live and die by my calendar, and I’ve enjoyed a great solution with Fantastical 2, both on my desktop and my mobile tech. My life is chock full of places to be, client work appointments, family activities, and personal events. Inputting appointments into Fantastical is very intuitive, and has nice integration with Apple Reminders, which I use for mental notes that eventually turn into action items. It’s ubiquitous for me.


Which iPad do you have?

Chris Powell's iPad Pro

I own a 32GB 12.9″ Space Gray iPad Pro (nicknamed “The Beast”). I read all the reviews (Ben Brooks’ sealed the deal for me) and ultimately decided to sell my 13″ Macbook Air to purchase one. I was mostly using Chrome on the Air, and I’m finding I’m doing so much more with a big iOS device.

Chris Powell's iPad Pro

Where can we find your wallpaper online?

I found my iPad wallpaper here. I’m a fan of dark wallpaper, and this one is a helpful reminder to avoid clutter and anything unnecessary.

How are you using your iPad on a daily basis?

The Beast is my consumption and composition resource. I like using it for reading, writing, and organizing my thoughts. Combined with my trusty Logitech K811, I use it to write articles on a couple of websites I dabble with. Split-screen functionality is nice, but that’s teetering on the multitasking cliff that I fall off so many times. Focusing on one thing at one time is the best mindset for me, so I try to only work on one thing at a time. This simple workflow (iPhone, iPad, wireless keyboard) is just what I need to get things done.

What apps do you use the most, and why?

I check my email on Spark because I like the interface and ability to save emails as PDFs to my Dropbox with one button.

I use Fantastical 2 all the time to schedule appointments and keep my work and personal lives, and devices, connected and in sync with each other.

Before work, I’ll check my tech feeds with the Apple News app and Flipboard. I refer to them as newspapers for the 21st century.

I use Pocket to save interesting articles from my tech feeds to read later after work when I have free mental space. Great interface, and with the premium subscription, I get solid recommendations from other folks for interesting articles I would not normally encounter.

The Kindle and iBooks apps give me a great screen to flip through PDFs and ePUB books.

I use Evernote all the time, and will often review, consolidate, and streamline my notes and other information to make it cleaner.

I use Quip with my podcast mate to develop show notes.

I flip between Byword and Ulysses to create documents to publish in the future.

The Netflix app is pretty spiffy on the large screen, and quite loud, too! YouTube as well. I also have a Sandisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive that I use to play movies or TV shows on my iPad with the free app. If I’m watching an .mkv file, the free Sandisk app shoots it to VLC. It’s my own personal media server wherever I wander.

Which app could you not live without?

If I only had to choose one app to rescue if my iPad was on fire, I’d choose Pocket because I save so many interesting articles, tech tips to reference later, guides, snippets of information, and long-form writing. I’ll never finish reading what’s in my list!


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