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Liam Byrnes’ Mac and iPhone 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 am Liam Byrnes. I’m originally from Cornwall in England, but now live with my wife Rachel (she’s from Scotland) in South Africa…right now, though, I’m writing this in Taiwan!

I work for All Nations as a volunteer1 and am financially supported by amazing people from the UK and US. Despite my primary role being raising and mentoring local leaders face to face, because we are a non-profit without a big administrative staff, I always spend a reasonable amount of time on my computer, as a certain someone once said, Getting Things Done!

I’m also writing a thesis for an M.A. from the University of the Nations, and in my down-time I’m writing on LiamByrnes.com, tweeting here, and Instagramming up a storm here.

Seeing as being on a computer is not my primary place of work, productivity (and the software that assists that) becomes a big deal, hence why I love The Sweet Setup2 — you’ll see a lot of apps I use that I’ve picked up from other interviews on here.

What is your current setup?

Liam Byrnes' Desk

I am currently using a mid-2013 MBA3. At the time of purchase, I crammed it full of everything Apple would let me, which was 1.7 iCore 7, 8GB Ram, & 512GB SSD. My previous workhorse was a 15″ 2008 MBP, and I’m convinced that my move to the MacBook Air (and specifically the SSD boot drive) has saved me days of productivity. I also have an Airport Extreme with a humble 1TB Western Digital Passport drive plugged in the back of it so all our devices can watch the TV shows stored in it.

When I travel, I carry everything in a bag I researched for 2 years — the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 with cache on rails (in Grey w/ Wasabi interior). I’m pretty pleased with it. For sounds, I’m using Bose QC20i that I enjoy, especially on planes and coffee shops, but the noise cancelling leaves me feeling a little disoriented during Skype/FaceTime calls as you can’t hear your voice as you would normally.

At home, my MacBook Air sits on a Roost foldable stand4. It’s very well-built and the way it folds down is genius (though I didn’t feel like one when I was using it at first). This takes the screen height up to a comfortable height and is way sturdier than it looks. It also means that my whole setup is very portable. So far though, it has only made it as far as our dining room table since when we travel further I don’t need the MacBook Air up on a stand.

Underneath that sits a Logitech K760 solar-powered keyboard. It’s a little bulkier than the average keyboard, but I didn’t want to have to keep changing batteries, and it allows me to switch quickly between my phone and MacBook. I’m not a keyboard nerd in the sense that I see people talking about certain types of switches, etc., but I definately can tell the difference between this keyboard and the MacBook, and I don’t necessarily love the way this keyboard feels5.

Alongside that is a Logitech T651 Wireless Trackpad. It’s the first third-party trackpad and although it looks nice and does the job fine, I haven’t managed to dial it in to be as responsive for gestures as the MacBook Air’s own trackpad. But, it does the job and connects pretty seamlessly over Bluetooth.

Liam Byrnes' Desk

Finally, I have a wooden book stand I use for holding books open when I’m typing quotes or reading and taking notes.

Not included in the shot is a Bose portable Sounddock, which means it has an internal battery, not that its particularly small by today’s Bluetooth speaker standards. It’s 7 years old (it was a wedding gift) and I’ve updated it to Bluetooth by connecting this AmazonBasics receiver to its auxillary input.

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

I use Alfred (w/ Powerpack) for launching, searching, etc. I know a lot of people really geek out over their launchers, but most of the reason for Alfred is to have as few apps as possible in the Dock. I use Airplane mode, Alfred tweet, Unmount and Fantastical mostly, although I also used the new workflows feature to design actions for checking movie ratings on multiple sites and launching sites that give swell ratings, as well as webcams for beaches in my area called “surf check.”

I use Bartender to keep my menu bar in check, Fantastical 2, which I love for the natural language parsing, is the only app that doesn’t get hidden away. I own Things on Mac & iOS, but tend to go to it only to deal with more complex projects. Fantastical adding Reminders support basically made the switch decision for me.

It took me years (literally) to take the plunge into 1Password (heartbleed was the final straw), and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it makes having…err…one password.

Backblaze keeps me backed up off-site. I use Time Machine every few weeks, and SuperDuper! (for bootable backups) even less frequently (to my shame), which means I keep most of the important stuff in Dropbox (71 GB, all through referrals — never paid a cent).

Almost everything work-related gets stored in Evernote (3001 notes, over 100 notebooks and counting…) I use the email-in feature almost daily. I also play live music for our church community at least once a week and use Evernote to store, share, and display all the chords (pro tip: I use Caffeine as a one-click solution to keep the display from unexpectedly sleeping during those all-important chord changes!)

I just started using Markdown in the middle of last year and purchased a WriteRoom license a few years before that. I like its distraction-free writing environment, and I love that it syncs over Dropbox, but the iPhone app has let me down badly a few times. So now, despite continuing to use it almost daily, I’m looking for a new plain-text editor with a strong iOS counterpart and seamless syncing.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I’d love a Henge Vertical Dock setup connecting to a large Apple Retina display. If I had more time, I’d also like to work on some home automation and a NAS-RAID setup. I’d also love a desk that would allow me to switch between standing and sitting.

What iPhone do you have?

Liam Byrnes' iPhone 6 Plus

I managed to get my hands on a 128GB iPhone 6 Plus the week it came out in South Africa, which is a near miracle, but the price I paid was I didn’t get to choose the colour. So…it’s gold and white, but I managed to cover it in a Pad&Quill Luxury leather notebook, which makes an already huge phone massive. But, the upside is now my wallet (which I’ve misplaced a million times before this) is now GPS-tracked and I’ve never lost it since it sticks to my phone.

What apps do you use the most, and why?

I think I’m pretty unusual in that I have never gone to lengths to organise the app layout to have the most used apps on the homescreen and rely heavily on the pull-down gesture and Spotlight (kind of like a launcher).

Evernote is my memory, and even though it definitely suffers from feature-creep (I’m looking at you, Work Chat), it reliably syncs and saves everything I need.

I find it impossible to recall my schedule from memory, so Fantastical allows me to input an appointment or reminder in natural language whilst still talking to the person or in the middle of another task.

Drafts is often where everything starts text-wise, given some buggy behavior with WriteRoom. I’ve taken to writing on the go within Drafts and discovered it helps me write in Markdown by adding in corresponding footnote tags and such-like.

Scanner Pro saves to Dropbox and Evernote and is the reason I am as paperless as I can be. I tried Scannable, which was so quick and almost led me to switch, but a few power features on Scanner Pro kept that as the home screen option.

1Password – I was so relieved when the Safari browser extension was introduced, but something is happening recently where it is no longer allowing me to use Touch ID (Yes…I’ve checked the settings).

Overcast – Probably the newest app I’m enjoying — the enjoyment of the UI is leading me to listen to more podcasts than I ever have. Smart Speed alone makes it the best.

Mailbox – Their launch was surely one of the most hype-inducing ever, and swipe for later has changed my email life.

Fantastical input has forced the switch to Reminders for me, but I still use Things for more complex tasks.

I read on Feedly (although I’ve seriously considered Reeder, which I already have on the Mac) Instapaper, and BBC News.

I live in a different country than my bank accounts exist in, and I’ve been travelling this year away from both South Africa and the UK more than ever, so The Converted has helped me keep track of what I’m spending in all 3 currencies. Next is the best player for easiest input in keeping track of our budget. I’ve tried a number of other options that simply require you to sit down at the end of the day with your receipts, and I’m never going to be that kind of budget tracker, so Next works great for me.

WordPress, mainly to check the stats on the new blog I started a few months ago to see if I made it big… ;)

I take a fair amount of photos on my phone and I edit starting in Snapseed and then finish in VSCOCam.

Prizmo is a seriously useful app for my study and research. Before, I’ve tried typing out quotes and dictating them, but Prizmo does a pretty great job at OCR and saves me doing anything. I had high hopes for combining this with Command-C, but never consistently managed to get it to pair with my Mac, and it quickly became more trouble than it was worth.

A few noteworthy’s that don’t live on my home screen but I use a lot:

  • Sleep Cycle – Tracking sleep and playing waves while I sleep.
  • Klok – For its notification widget displaying four timezones. I have family and close friends living in 7 different time zones.
  • Parallel Bible – A crowd-sourced visualisation of the Bible.
  • Checkmark – For geo-fenced reminders.
  • Flickr & Carousel – Both offering free space to back up photos.
  • Hippo Remote – Back before I had Apple TV, I attached my Mac to our TV using a short HDMI cable. Hippo Remote turned my phone into a VLC remote and trackpad and pairs flawlessly.

Which app could you not live without?

Evernote keeps everything in one place and in every place simultaneously. Even though the feature creep is making its core functionality a little cluttered, I’d be lost without the digital filing cabinet room it has become to me.

There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.

  1. Just like Brandon Jones, who was previously featured on the sweet setup

  2. I’ve actually been reading these since they started on Shawnblanc.net in 2009. 

  3. Which I effectively bought twice as my buddy who was bringing it back from the states put it in his checked baggage and it got “delayed” in Johannesburg airport and arrived sans 2 brand new Macbook Airs! SAA refused compensation…ouch. 

  4. Same one as David Seah reviews here, although v2 coming out soon looks very cool. 

  5. In fact, at the same time I bought an AmazonBasics keyboard to travel with and I almost prefer it.