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V.H. Belvadi’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?

I’m V.H. Belvadi, a postgraduate student of physics doing my research at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics where I study an extremely rare breed of variable stars called R Coronae Borealis stars, or RCB stars for short. They’re an interesting group of stars whose luminosity pulsates dramatically over short periods of time. Not enough is known about them, but we have observational data from the late 1700s when the first such star was discovered.

Besides physics, I love to make photographs and direct short films in my free time, and I write, occasionally, on my personal website. Also, I prefer tea to coffee.

What is your current setup?

V.H. Belvadi's desk

I have a 15″ retina MacBook Pro from 2013 that shows no signs of slowing down. It has a 2.3GHz i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 500GB of storage. I use it mostly as a desktop replacement, but also carry it around if necessary. I use my 13″ MacBook Air whenever I’m out because it really is quite the perfect travel companion for me. It has 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, which is enough for my use, especially because most of my research and reading is synced via Dropbox and is available on either device. I rarely have any trouble using either computer without manually transferring my files.

V.H. Belvadi's computers

I also have an old desktop that runs Ubuntu, but it has seen little use of late, and the same goes for my old Windows gaming laptop. I travel with my MacBook Air along with my other gadgets: my Nikon D600, my iPhone, and my Kindle Voyage. And, of course, I always have my Moleskine pocket notebook and a Pilot V7 with me.

Where can we find your OS X wallpaper?

I use one of my own photographs called “Whitewash rapids.” I made it a couple of years ago, and it happens to be one of my favourite photographs now.

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

I find that many apps come and go as I always keep trying out new things, but there are some that I use more frequently and constantly than others. Evernote has been with me for a long time (and is important enough that I recently got a premium subscription). It does what it does well, saving and organising webpages, documents, collections of notes etc.

I use Mendeley to manage my research. I almost always write on Byword, and if I have to publish it to my website, I do so directly from my desktop. I use Apple’s own Pages and Keynote for documents and presentations and find them to be pretty good. There is Slack for good measure if my phone is not nearby, and Disk Inventory X to keep track of storage.

I use Airmail for e-mail and I use the Feedly app for reading RSS feeds I follow. (I’ve been looking to get Reeder, but I use my Mac only rarely for this purpose, so that has held me back.) Safari is my browser. Dropbox, of course, is a must, as is Lightroom for working on photographs I make. And then there are some work apps like Mathematica, IRAF, MathType, Xcode, some LaTeX packages etc.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I haven’t really thought about this, to be honest. The setup I currently have does all I need it to and I’m happy with it — for now anyway. I suppose that makes my current setup my ideal one.

What iPhone do you have?

V.H. Belvadi's iPhone

I have a 64 GB iPhone 6S in space gray. I used to use the 6 Plus but slowly realised that I didn’t mind trading off the extra screen size for a smaller, more comfortable phone that I can use in one hand. I’ve been really happy with the dimensions of the 6S, but the battery life, not so much.

Where can we find your wallpaper online?

I find that plain black wallpapers give a feeling of incompleteness at times, so I usually prefer to have a black one with a texture or pattern, or something along those lines. The one I’m using at the moment is a picture of the Milky Way I got from an excellent site called papers.co.

What apps do you use the most, and why?

I start my day with a couple of news apps — Espresso, The Guardian — and Reeder for reading my RSS subscriptions.

Instapaper is for saving articles for later. I actually manage to go back and read a few of them, or so I like to believe. Documents is a great file manager for iOS, and Dropbox, being the cloud storage I use, is absolutely necessary. I feel safe having a dictionary a tap away. I use Pennies for tracking expenses manually. I find no expense tracker is perfect, but I like that Pennies does not force me to assign categories to my expenses, which really speeds up the entire process of entering data. It is simple and fast.

Byword is one of only two third-party apps I use across all my devices. The other is Airmail.

I use Timepage as my calendar because I find the stock app hard to navigate and I prefer the planner look that Timepage has. The app is great and syncs with my iCloud calendar so I can use it along with the stock Calendar app on iPad and Mac. The team behind the app develops it passionately and actively too, and I would recommend it to everyone without hesitation. It does not have Fantastical’s natural language input yet, though. I used to use Fantastical before, but never really liked the layout. 1Password is there too, of course, and WolframAlpha for quick references — it helps that I can input in LaTeX and also graph functions easily.

I am active only on Twitter (@vhbelvadi) and Instagram. I enjoy Twitter because it helps get straight to the point without a lot of (anti)social small talk. I use Tweetbot for two reasons: the official Twitter app has advertisements that hijack my feed, and Tweetbot, unlike Twitter’s app, puts lists front and centre so I can follow updates from news sources or institutes as part of a list without actually following their accounts, and thereby keep my main twitter list full of real people with whom I can have meaningful interactions.

Overcast is a good podcast app, and while it has several nice features, the only real reason why I use it instead of the stock app is because the stock app does not have access to certain podcasts in certain countries. I subscribe to Apple Music (since Rdio shut down). I edit my photographs using VSCO for more complex edits and the built-in editor in the stock Photos app if only basic edits will do — I do not believe in editing my photographs dramatically unless I have a really good reason.

Lastly, I have Evernote, 2Do, the stock Notes app, and access to the camera. The stock camera app is quickest to access and does the job well, and for those rare instances where I feel the need for manual control, I use 3D Touch to access the manual camera on VSCO. I have other apps like Slow Shutter Camera and Hyperlapse that I use once in a while, and Scannable, Slack and my bank app as well, all of which reside on the second screen. The only reason I have the settings app on the first screen is because iOS 10 has a 3D Touch shortcut to toggle mobile data (but I still wish it were in the control centre). I keep two screens with no folders on the first one.

Which app could you not live without?

This is a really hard question to answer. If I have to pick, I would go with Dropbox. Being just a storage unit it could theoretically replace a lot of other apps like Evernote and Byword, although it would not, in practice, be equally convenient. But at least all my data would be considerably safe.

Which iPad do you have?

V.H. Belvadi's iPad

I have a first generation iPad Air, 32GB in silver.

Where can we find your wallpaper online?

This is another photograph I made, called “Softness.”

How are you using your iPad on a daily basis?

I use my iPad mainly for reading my magazine subscriptions (I recently switched completely to digital subscriptions and cancelled print issues), reading articles on my Instapaper, browsing the web, reading eBooks related to work and (less often, because I prefer my Macs for this) reading and filing research papers, taking notes for any article or presentation I may be working on, and consuming visual media (TED etc.). I also play one of four games if I’m free: chess (Chess.com has a great app), Sudoku, Hearthstone, and Fallout Shelter.

What apps do you use the most, and why?

Like on my Mac and iPhone, I have Byword and Airmail here. And like my iPhone, I also have 1Password, Mendeley, Tweetbot, WolframAlpha, Documents, Dropbox, Evernote, Instapaper, Reeder, etc. I have some of my magazine subscriptions on the first screen, and there are others on the second. I also have an app called Arx, which I use to access arXiv.

GoodNotes is a great app for managing ebooks and annotating or handwriting notes if necessary. It syncs changes with Dropbox and is a stable and reliable app. Paper by FiftyThree was one of the first apps I installed on my iPad and I really enjoy it. I use it to make quick illustrations for presentations as well as to sketch random ideas. Like on my Mac, apps like Calendar see little use on my iPad since I always have my iPhone with me and just reach for that when necessary.

Which app could you not live without?

I would be tempted to say Dropbox again, but to prevent being repetitive let me pick another: the app I use most often on iPad happens to be GoodNotes, and it has gotten me through a lot of elephantine books, has robust search and annotation features, library organisation, and Dropbox sync. It also works great as a great magnifier and auto-scroll feature that helps in handwriting with a stylus. So, if I had to pick only one app to have on my iPad, this would be it.

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