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Jason Becker’s sweet Mac 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?

My name is Jason Becker. I am a data scientist at Allovue, an education startup that helps districts and schools manage their resources. I work on data architecture, integration, and analysis.

What is your current setup?

Jason Becker's setup
Editor’s note: you can find Jason’s wallpaper here.

I use a 13” Macbook Pro with Retina Display with 16GB of RAM for work at Allovue (not pictured). Data analysis is a real memory suck, so I could really use as much as possible. As a result, I wind up using server resources to do heavier work like Amazon Web Services.

At home, I use a mid-2011 Mac Mini with 4GB of RAM and a spinning disk drive― ouch. I have a 22” Dell monitor and some Logitech speakers I bought together off Craigslist a few years ago. A large monitor, keyboard, and mouse is key to a happy life. I always think it’s funny when folks treat the part of a computer they touch, feel, and see as an afterthought. I have settled on the Apple Wireless Keyboard mostly so that I am comfortable switching back to my laptop keyboard. I would prefer something more ergonomic and geared toward Mac users with all the great media controls, but I haven’t found the right one yet. I use a Microsoft mouse from their Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000. I prefer the Apple Magic Mouse for its excellent gestures, but it’s just too low to the desk to use all the time.

I also have a Kindle Paper White, iPhone 5S (32GB), iPad Mini with Retina Display (LTE 32 GB), a Fujitsu Scansnap S1300i, and Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones. My desk and lamp are from Ikea. I drilled a large whole in the back of the center drawer to run all the wires to my Mac Mini and a WD Passport hard drive I use for Time Machine backups.

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

I spent a lot of my work day in RStudio, which is the best environment to write R code. R is an open-source programming language for statistics and data analysis. Most of my work is done in R, including generating reports and presentations using RMarkdown. This way my work is entirely reproducible and easily updated when there’s new data. Think of R and RStudio as the Objective-C and Xcode for data analysts. Python is becoming more popular in my field, and when I write anything in Python, produce things for the web, or write anything at all that’s more than a paragraph, I use Sublime Text as my text editor of choice. Along with Marked and pandoc, I have no interest and little need to use more complex tools for writing. I use Things across all of my devices for task management. I do a lot of work in the Terminal where my favorite shell is fish. If you’re working with lots of data in plain text files, it’s amazing how much you can do with basic Unix scripting and using tools like awk and sed. Omnigraffle is great for drawing data schemas and mapping out business processes. With Kaleidoscope, I can easily see the differences between not just text documents, but also changes to Omnigraffle charts. Our whole company uses Slack for chat and I can’t sing its praises enough. As someone who grew up on the internet of the 90s, having chatrooms with image support, search, code snippets, file sharing, private communication, and Google Hangout integration is amazing.

Because I work in text everywhere, fonts and syntax highlight are essential for me. I use Source Code Pro anywhere that fixed-width is appropriate, and Open Sans almost everywhere else. Tommorrow Night and Tomorrow Night Bright everywhere, always.

On the fun side, I use Messages to chat with friends and family, Safari for browsing, Tweetbot for Twitter, Textual for IRC, and Reeder for RSS. Ever since getting a Macbook with a small SSD, I’ve almost entirely abandoned my large library of MP3s for Rdio, which is a much better experience than iTunes in every way. Lack of space is also why I stopped using Mail.app for email and moved entirely to using Fluid containers for connecting to my personal Fastmail account and my work Gmail. Continuing with the theme of saving space, I use Daisy Disk and Clean My Mac 2 to keep my hard drive lean and mean. Text Expander snippets are constantly firing off — I have no idea what for at this point, it is just an embedded part of typing for me. 1Password is a must for anyone who uses the internet. I map Alfred to Cmd + Space.

Photo management and storage is a mess these days. I am hoping the new iCloud and iPhoto features coming this fall will make things easier. For now, I use my own modified version of Casey Liss’ modified version of Dr. Drang’s Python script to get my photos in order and then use Lyn from that point forward.

I have two dirty secrets — I can never have enough resolution and my backup and file syncing situation is a mess. I almost never have fewer than 8 virtual desktops and I need Moom to manage the windows on each of them. I use Dropbox, Bittorrent Sync, and a File Transporter to keep things accessible and moving around between my laptop and Mac Mini. I barely have a system that determines which files go where, but virtually everything on my hard drive is syncing through one service or another. I like the privacy of things like File Transporter and Bittorrent, but the file history and ubiquity of Dropbox is almost too much to give up. I use Backblaze to back up my whole machine and also keep a Time Machine Backup. I probably need a local full-disk clone, but never got into the habit.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I have all the components of a great setup, but everything could use a bump. I have been waiting, like many Mac geeks, for a Thunderbolt display update and/or Mac Mini update that would make it clear how I could update my whole home computing situation. Not having an SSD has become brutal. At the moment, I am thinking that a refreshed 27″ iMac with the Broadwell chips are in my future since the Mac Mini seems abandoned and a new display is in my future anyway. It would be even better if I could get two 27″ screens on an Ergotron arm. I have been eying a Synology Diskstation for a while and feel pretty confident one is in my near future, especially since my next desktop will definitely have an SSD.

I just started working at Allovue and that has brought a big change to my life– I now work from home. So I bit the bullet and backed this standing desk on Kickstarter. I am also thinking of stepping up my desk speakers so I don’t feel like I always have to wear headphones.

I am really excited about Continuity. I think my ideal future computing world is having my phone be my only real computer. It would project my presence and identification to whatever computing resource I was in front of so my setup was always there and comfortable. Air Play, Car Play, and Continuity feel like the first steps toward an awesome future.


There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.