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Dr. Terry Portis’ sweet 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 Dr. Terry Portis, college director, psychology professor, reader and technology enthusiast. I manage a department that is made up of about 200 faculty and 4,000 students.

I also teach one face-to-face psychology class each semester, do some online teaching and curriculum design, serve on three boards, and teach adult Sunday School at my church. I do workshops and write articles for college faculty and administrators on doing better presentations, using technology to be more productive, and how teaching is impacted by aging and disabilities. The teaching and writing part of my life does not feel like work at all, I have fun doing it and sometimes lose track of time for hours. The administrative part— yeah, that feels like hard work (but meaningful).

What is your current Mac setup?

I have a mid-2013 Macbook Air with a 128 GB hard drive and 4GB ram. I keep media, video clips and photos for presentations (often purchased from iStock photo) on an SD card that is never removed from the machine. Since this laptop is always with me at several different locations and is so critical, I took out an extra insurance policy for it. I have two external hard drives, one at work and one at home for my Time Machine backups.

Dr. Terry Portis' home setup

At home I usually connect my Macbook Air to a 27” ASUS VS278Q-P Ultrafast 1ms 27-Inch LED-Lit Monitor (if I’m not sitting in my recliner). I bought one of these monitors for my wife, but loved it so much I bought one for myself. I don’t really use a mouse anymore — all trackpads. At work, I often just use my Macbook Air on the desk, but keep a 24” monitor, keyboard, and trackpad hidden away for ready use. If I am comparing documents side by side, or looking at spreadsheets, I take 5 minutes and set up the bigger screen.

Dr. Terry Portis' office setup

At work a typical Windows desktop sits on the credenza behind me. I use it every day or two to access HR, finance, and student databases and for secure storage for archival material. If I am away from my desk, I can access all this using Citrix. The desktop also stays connected to my scanner, which keeps me as paperless as possible.

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

I am constantly trying out new software and apps, but it seems like I keep going back to the same core tools. The college provides all staff subscriptions to Office 365 and the full Adobe Creative Cloud, which I really appreciate. I have tried most of the Adobe products, and used to be a heavy InDesign user, but don’t use these on a regular basis anymore.

Dropbox (I pay for it) is the center of my work and life digital universe. I have tried almost every other personal cloud service, but keep coming back to Dropbox. I need to access my files using any device in any setting, and Dropbox has never let me down.

Given all the meetings I attend and bits and pieces of information I collect and share, Evernote is a must. I keep looking at OneNote, and like the look of it better than Evernote. Nothing is faster than Evernote for getting information in and out. I email into it frequently and use the menu dropdown quick note box several times per day. I also like how you can just drag a file to the icon in the Dock and it creates a note with the file as an attachment.

For my teaching files, I use Together by Reinvented Software to keep that organized. Together doesn’t put files in a database, and you can access them through the Finder system, which is important for me. The Together files are in a Dropbox folder, so I can get to them through any device. I like Together better than Evernote for file management, but Evernote is just so quick at getting information in and out that I stick with it for everything else.

I use Appigo Todo for daily tasks. This is an area where I have tried everything, but Todo syncs to Toodledo (which has been around forever), so I can email into Todo, which is important. I have really simplified my task management lately, and Todo works well for that approach.

I write or develop a lot of documents and use Pages for that. I have created quite a few templates in Pages, things like reports, grading forms, agendas and flyers. I feel like Pages gives me an advantage because even my basic documents look different (and better) than the default Calibri-font Word documents that most people use.

Of course, as a professor and presenter, Keynote is a must. I use 4K Video Downloader to pull in video for my presentations. Excel (or Numbers) are used everyday, but not with much joy.

Some miscellaneous apps include TextExpander, which is a new discovery, and it says I have used it 517 times in the last two months and saved about two hours of typing time. iA Writer sits in my dock and I use it two or three times a day to start an email I need to think about, or begin a new document. DayOne is what I use for a sporadic journal entries and my reading list. Reeder is used for RSS feeds. Alfred is a utility that I use on a regular basis to bring up apps or do quick math.

I use the stock Mail.app because I am fast in processing email with it and it creates no problems for me. Safari is pretty much my only browser, though Chrome sometimes is needed for a learning management system (LMS) I use.

I just bought OmniOutliner, but keep going back to Pages to do an outline. I am going to read the iBook publication on it over Christmas and see if it can have a place in my workflow.

How would your ideal Mac setup look and function?

The 10-12 hours of battery life and 2 pounds of weight seem like minor miracles, so the Macbook Air is pretty ideal. I never carry an adapter with me anymore. My first laptop weighed 14 pounds and got like 90 minutes on battery. I occasionally do think about switching over to a Macbook Pro with Retina and wonder if I might do that someday. If the fabled Macbook Air with Retina comes out, I will definitely get that. Whatever the case, I did not get a big enough hard drive last time.

What iPhone do you have?

Dr. Terry Portis' iPhone

I have the iPhone 6 Plus and love the extra screen real estate. The 16GB works fine for me because I move photos and movies off of it pretty quickly and stream all my media content.

What iOS apps do you use the most, and why?

I use iCatcher to listen to Podcasts on a daily basis. Facebook and Twitter seem better on iOS so this is how I access them. Drafts is frequently used to get a quick note somewhere. The bigger iPhone makes it OK to watch Netflix at the gym on the crosstrainer now. Perfect size for that.

Which iPhone app could you not live without?

Probably the clock app for alarms.

Which iPad do you have?

Dr. Terry Portis' iPad

iPad 4, although I’m ready to order an iPad Air at anytime.

How are you using your iPad on a daily basis?

I use it to carry a lot of reference documents into a meeting, for reading, and sometimes use it for my speaker notes. I also find myself checking my feeds through Reeder on the iPad at the end of the day.

What iPad apps do you use the most, and why?

Dropbox to access documents and notes, Evernote to look at agendas and to read reminders I have placed in my inbox. I usually do my speaker notes in Pages, so I use that a bit, but open from Dropbox. The Kindle app gets a lot of use, but I also have a Kindle PaperWhite that I alternate to, especially at night when my eyes are tired.

Which iPad app could you not live without?

If I only had Pages and the Kindle app, it would still be a really useful device for me.


There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.