My Sweet Setup: Dropbox

I’ve used Dropbox since its beta days in 2008. As soon as I saw that it magically offered the ability for me to have a folder that would be magically in sync on all of my computers, no matter what, I wanted it.

In the early days of Dropbox, the only way you could get more space was by inviting others to use Dropbox as well. I invited a bunch of friends to get gigabytes of synced space, and when they started offering paid plans I quickly hopped on board, getting boosted to a then-expansive 20 gigabytes of cloud storage. That’s laughable compared to the terabytes Dropbox offers now.

And indeed, Dropbox is damn near perfect at that. I save a file in my Dropbox folder, and it quickly syncs up to the cloud and propagates to my Dropbox folder on all other computers. Dropbox has since then built a number of other features around this, but their core file sync working so perfectly is their fortress. I’ve never had Dropbox lose data on me.

Dropbox is core infrastructure for me; it’s like my home folder, but more omnipresent.

It’s also handy that Dropbox integrates with just about everything, so I’m not just limited to file sync. I can use it with IFTTT and a Hazel script on my computer to automatically archive all my liked tweets as they come in. When I scan things, my scanner sends them straight to my Dropbox account right over Wi-Fi. And my beloved Alfred uses Dropbox to sync its settings, making Dropbox one of the first things I install on a Mac.

Dropbox is also just a great default place for me to save files. I have space for them on Dropbox, and by sticking a file in Dropbox, I get backups on multiple computers and an offsite backup, automatically. Not only that, but Dropbox keeps my deleted files indefinitely and will save previous versions of files, handy in case I make a change I didn’t mean to make.

Dropbox isn’t perfect nowadays. As a corporation they seem not content with having loyal, paying customers like me, and I get the sense they are constantly trying to dream up the next big thing that will launch them into a new growth phase. Their newest desktop application less like the creation of someone trying to make something useful, and more like something a product manager dreamed up to juice up engagement numbers for Dropbox, or to find ways for Dropbox to insert itself into things as intermediary.

And some of their newer features just aren’t as good as their core functionality. Smart Sync in particular is just awful and I have it completely disabled on my account (instead I use Selective Sync, which has me explicitly choose which files I want to sync).

The thing I ultimately love about Dropbox is that it nails the fundamentals. Sure, they’ve had their head in other new features, but they’ve kept core functionality working. I keep Dropbox around because unlike Apple, whose attention is spread super thin because they do so much, Dropbox’s file syncing is what pays their bills, and I trust that they are going to keep things working.

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My Sweet Setup: OmniFocus

screenshot of OmniFocus appThe largest benefit to using a to-do/task manager like OmniFocus isn’t the satisfaction of staying on top of tasks, or even the reward of getting those tasks done. It’s the feeling of relief you get to feel when you know you have a lot of tasks on your mind, and you dump all of those tasks out of your mind and into OmniFocus and get them nice and categorized.

That feeling is incredible because you can then replace that nagging feeling of “is there something I’m forgetting?” that’s been keeping you awake at night with a calm assured feeling that everything is taken care of because you know it’s in OmniFocus and you can trust that you’ll be told to deal with it right when you need to.

I happened upon OmniFocus in college shortly after it first was released, and it was just what the doctor ordered. I was just overwhelmed with tasks. I had schoolwork from multiple classes, I had music lessons and musical ensembles I participated in, and I had two jobs. I was in desperate need of something to keep track of all of my commitments, and OmniFocus was the right tool for the job.

Since college, my need for OmniFocus waxes and wanes, but I always like to keep coming back to it because every time I start using it again, I am reminded of that feeling of serenity I get when I start using it again.

OmniFocus in particular is a heavyweight system for tasks. If you just have a handful of to-do items and maybe a few different lists, it might not make sense for you, and you might be better served just by the built-in Reminders app or one of the many other simpler to-do list apps out there. But if you are a GTD practitioner, you might enjoy OmniFocus, as it was originally purpose-made for GTD (its newest version replaces contexts with tags, which is kind of cool because you can pick more than one tag now).

I’m especially fond of OmniFocus’s Forecast view; it provides me with a unified view of my due tasks and my calendar, which can be a great way to get a plan for what my day is going to look like.

If you do decide you want to try OmniFocus, spend some time with it, and I also recommend checking out The Omni Show podcast, which regularly interviews OmniFocus users (and users of other Omni apps). You can get to learn how they fit OmniFocus into their lives and get a good sense of how to effectively get the most out of it.

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My Sweet Setup: MindNode

screenshot of MindNode
It’s a niche use case but when I need it, nothing is better than a mind map, and MindNode is a fantastic tool for building them.

If you’ve never used mind maps before, I highly recommend them. At their core they’re just an outline, but they’re presented on an infinite canvas. When presented like this, it’s trivial to segue from one idea to the next and form ideas that you didn’t realize you had in you.

I love to use a mind map when I am working on a talk, presentation, or blog post about a topic, and I want to explore what I know and what I want to talk about. I can then traverse the mind map quickly and add structure to the document I’m producing.

MindNode works really nicely and has simple keyboard shortcuts. It also has an iOS app that works seamlessly with the Mac app, and when you save your documents in iCloud they’re both easily accessible from both your Macs and iOS devices, handy when you are working on building out a mind map over a long period of time.

And when you want to share your mind map, MindNode offers a ton of options. You can export in a variety of textual formats, a giant PNG, or even a PDF.

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My Sweet Setup: CleanShot X

screenshot of CleanShot X, a screenshotting app. I see the irony.
When macOS Mojave introduced an overhaul to their screenshots feature to make it similar to how iOS does screenshots, I was really excited initially and pretty quickly gave up on it; it’s weird to use and doesn’t really support drag and drop.

Last year I stumbled across CleanShot X, which is like if Skitch and the macOS screenshot feature had a baby.

I always loved how Skitch made it easy to quickly mark up a screenshot and then drag and drop it somewhere with a prominent handle on the window. I was initially excited when Evernote bought Skitch then brought it into the Evernote fold, but years of neglect and poor performance soured me to it.

CleanShot works beautifully, and I have it saving screenshots into a folder in Dropbox, making it easy to share an HTTP link to the file. I then index these screenshots in DEVONthink, giving me a rough equivalent to Skitch’s Evernote-integrated features, but since each component is a best of breed tool, they all work seamlessly together and everything is fast.

CleanShot doesn’t just stop with screenshots; you can also do simple screen recordings that can be MP4 files or gifs.

I take screenshots probably about a dozen times a day on a given work day and CleanShot is just perfect.

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My Sweet Setup: DEVONthink

a screenshot of DEVONthink
About a year ago I made a big switch in my paperless life: I retired Evernote and decided to use DEVONthink instead. As my past posts might indicate, I was a hard-core Evernote user.

But DEVONthink is a far better values fit for me.

DEVONthink feels like someone made a Mac-only version of Evernote for its most die-hard power users.

DEVONthink respects you as a user. Using DT doesn’t tie you to a syncing cloud account. Your database is totally under your control. In fact, you don’t even have to have just a single database!

I use a few different databases for DT for myself. One is a business database that I put receipts and scanned paperwork into. Technical notes and learnings have their own database. And my personal database contains other random pieces of information I have clipped from the web and other places over the years.

Not being backed by a cloud service might make you think sync is no good, but in fact it’s super flexible! I can sync using a variety of cloud services, and I can pick and choose which databases I sync, and to which devices. For added privacy, I can encrypt my synced database so that Dropbox or iCloud don’t know the actual contents. And for the particularly privacy-minded, LAN sync is available.

It’s nice and very at home on the Mac, but it doesn’t feel super lightweight. Not that the app is slow or anything; it actually performs pretty well even as I look through big databases, but the interface itself is just quite heavy. It’s an app for power users after all. As such, it’s not my go-to app for general notetaking and entry of data (though you can certainly use it like that if you prefer). For that I’ll typically use Drafts or Bear and archive to DT.

But you can do incredible things with DT. It’s fully AppleScriptable. It integrates beautifully with other Mac apps. I can archive mailboxes from Mail into DT. I can have DT index folders for me, allowing me to keep my files where I’m used to, but still get the benefit of DT’s organizing and tagging.

DT is happy with any old file type; as long as your system has a Quick Look plugin for the file, you can see it in DT. That’s freeing because it means I am free to use the app I think is best for a job.

I use DT as a digital filing cabinet of sorts. I archive stuff into it with confidence that I can dig it up later.

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My Sweet Setup: TextMate 2

One of the most striking things about TextMate for me is just how long it’s been a part of my life. I’ve been using TextMate for almost 15 years now. TextMate has been with me through most of college, when as a poor college student I got it as part of the first MacHeist bundle. It’s been with me through my entire post-college life. I’ve used it to implement software and APIs for companies that have gone on to have billion-dollar valuations. I only just paid for an upgrade for it last fall when TextMate 2 was released out of beta. It’s even become open-source since I started using it.

If you know the editors out there you know TextMate is kind of a has-been. It pioneered a lot of new things, but I’m pretty sure we hit peak TextMate some time around 2010. Other editors have since then come along, and although TextMate 2 was released as a beta in 2011, users seemed to feel TextMate’s best days were behind it and they all moved onto other editors.

You might assume I’m still using TextMate out of stubbornnees or inertia, or maybe I didn’t even give other editors a fair shake. I have, in fact, tried to move full-time to other editors, but I keep coming back to TextMate. Not just because it’s familiar, but because it’s genuinely a great editor.

TextMate’s a native Mac app, which gives it a lot of points in my book. It somehow beautifully is able to feel at home both as a Mac app and as a hard core editor like emacs, supporting emacs bindings natively. Its UI feels very familiar as a Mac app, too. Whereas VS Code and Atom both stubbornly work as single-window apps thanks to the fact that they’re Electron apps, TextMate happily uses windows for everything. I don’t need split panes to see multiple files at once; I can just put a tab in its own window and I can put that new window wherever I damn well please!

And TextMate’s search/replace panel is quite simply the best. If I’m in a file and quickly need to find something, I can simply ⌃S and a little text field will pop up at the bottom of the window allowing me to search.

an animation of me using TextMate's incremental search

But when I am ready to bring out the big guns, I use the powerful find/replace panel, which I have yet to find matched in another editor.

textmate's find/replace panel

It’s full of delightful details in a way that all good Mac apps are. If I’m currently searching for something with a regular expression, but I change the search field to something in my search history, and I wasn’t using regex for that item, it will automatically un-check “Regular Expression” for me.

When I want to tear through searching every file in a big project I can narrow down by folder and use a pattern match to just search specific file types or names.

TextMate has this deceptively simple, no-frills looking interface, but it packs an incredible amount of power, and that power never gets in your face until you need it.

I admit, TextMate’s glory days are probably long behind it, but TextMate’s never been about the spotlight. It’s just there for me, still fully supported and getting updates after all these years from MacroMates.

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My Sweet Setup: Office Chairs

I own a Herman Miller Aeron (size C, the biggest one), and an Embody (which comes in one size), and both are excellent.

There isn’t much I can say about the Aeron; it’s an iconic office chair design and if you walk into just about any VC-funded startup you are likely to see an Aeron somewhere. All around, it’s excellent. It’s sturdy (and offers a ten-year warranty to back that sturdiness), comfortable to sit on for long periods, and is available with a number of different adjustment options.

If you’re used to buying $100-ish office chairs from Target, the $1000-ish price tag might send you running, but assuming you sit in the chair full time, you’ll spend 20,000 hours in this chair in a decade, so once you stretch out the cost it’s quite good. Your office chair is an area where you don’t want to skimp on cost; cheap office chairs will either have suboptimal comfort, or lack durability (or both). A company I worked for outfitted our office with some Aeron knock-offs from Office Max. They were admittedly really nice chairs, but the controls and gas lift started acting up after a couple of years, and the chairs are probably all sitting in a landfill well within a decade.

The Embody is a similar story in terms of price (one can be had for around $1500 depending on your color choice and configuration) but it similarly is an excellent chair with a unique design. Its brochures and web site are full of marketing fluff (including a claim that it’s the only chair where your heart rate actually will drop when you sit in it, which I’ve never bothered to test), but the back of the chair is a fascinating characteristic: it has a spine!

The spine is the defining visual and functional feature of the Embody; when you sit down in it, your back feels beautifully accommodated because the spine of the chair conforms to the curvature of your own spine. It feels really good to stretch your back and also feel the spine of the chair adjusting right with it.

I’ve owned both chairs for about the same period of time, and the Embody chair has aged worse. The cloth it’s upholstered with more easily shows signs of wear, and I get squeaks out of the Embody (though in the chair’s total defense, I am a big dude and I’m pushing the limits of the chair’s weight limit). If the Embody were to fall apart on me, I’d probably buy another though, because it’s a great chair.

As an aside, I appreciate that Herman Miller’s chairs are American-made.

But chairs are a highly personal choice. Whatever you choose, get it from a reputable chair maker (ideally it’s got a 10 year warranty), and try out as many as you can. You’ll be spending a grand or more, but you’ll be glad you did.

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My Sweet Setup: writer’s reflections

I’ve got a ton of My Sweet Setup posts drafted and in varying states.

I don’t dig much into engagement or views or anything, but my initial impressions are that no one gives a fuck about my setup.

I’m still reflecting on the writing myself. I think I keep veering too far into trying to write reviews of these products, and that’s not what I am good at nor should be doing. My goal here is to talk about some of my favorite gear and software and what I love about them.

I’m not really doing this for views so I’m not going to A/B test my content within an inch of its life to try to juice up as much engagement as possible; I just want to make sure that I’m writing things that are good in some way, and can possibly be helpful to someone.

I’ve got some queued up to go out throughout the week. I hope you get some enjoyment out of them!

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My Sweet Setup: Apple Magic Mouse

You might think with my fancy keyboard that I might be using some similarly obscure artisan mouse. Nope! I’m a huge fan of the Magic Mouse. I bought one the first day it was available for sale in Apple Stores in 2009.

Most of the entire top surface of the Magic Mouse is a touch-sensitive surface, which allows it to be super functional, without requiring any buttons on the mouse (the mouse itself will click when you press down, but otherwise no buttons). By default you can just use it as a one-button mouse that couldn’t be simpler, but the other gestures are easy to use, and you can easily do things like right-click. It’s Apple at its finest: elegantly simple and not at all intimidating, but sophisticated features for power users are also hiding right there in plain sight.

With the most modern Macs, I have zero issues with latency, and jitteriness is a non-issue as well. The mouse is wireless but it “just works”. I’m sure a hard-core gamer might complain about some latency, but in the age of wireless gaming controllers I think even they would agree the Magic Mouse’s latency is acceptably low.

The mouse is comfortable to use. Some think of its shape as ergonomically unfriendly because it’s flat and not sculpted, but I find that its relative flatness is easier on my wrists. Early in my career I used Microsoft mice and I was starting to notice some pain in my right arm that I think was caused by the mouse’s shape. After I got a job where I used a Mac with a Magic Mouse all day, the pain disappeared.

I use the Magic Mouse 2 now, which is just like the first Magic Mouse, except it replaces AA batteries with a built-in rechargeable one, and it auto-pairs with a Mac or iPad just by connecting the cable (a feature I wish Apple would open up to all Bluetooth devices to make pairing simple).

And yeah, to charge the Magic Mouse you have to turn it upside town to expose the charging port, in an apparent abdication of Apple’s principle of design being about “objects you can’t imagine any other way”.

If you want a real treat, buy a Magic Mouse from Colorware with a custom paint color. I’m thinking about treating myself to a brighter blue/green one this summer to replace the metallic blue/green one I got in 2010.

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The Privilege Behind “Assume Positive Intent”

“Assume Positive Intent”, I assume, is a concept that was created with positive intent (see what I did there?).

It is one of those rules that, on the face of it, sounds completely reasonable and can be used to great effect. In distributed companies or communities where a lot of communication is written, it can be a very good rule of thumb. In written communication especially, it’s easy to assume the tone is more cold than it was actually meant to be, and by adopting the practice of always assuming the writer meant well, you can avoid escalations.

That sounds great on the face of it, but if you let it completely permeate your culture and policy, you might actually be creating a more toxic environment.

Well-meaning people can easily benefit from the practice of being given the benefit of the doubt with their writing, but when your team by default assumes positive intent, you are also unwittingly creating an environment where assholes can thrive. I I often see executives practice this antipattern. They’ll say something kind of inflammatory and when they’re called out for it, they’ll make an appeal to assume positive intent on their part. It weaponizes tolerance. If your company or community is a big proponent of assuming positive intent, keep a close eye on who is benefiting from that. And perhaps more importantly, ask yourself if there is an equal emphasis on being kind in communications. “Assume positive intent” by itself can create a safe space for jerks, but “assume positive intent” paired with encouraging and rewarding kindness can help ensure that you’re creating an environment that is not toxic.

Second, and this I think is one gets a little hairier, is in who we ask to assume positive intent.

Suppose we have two colleagues, one male, one female, named Jens and Sabine. They’re peers, but Jens tends to have an easier go of things compared to Sabine. Their skills are comparable, but Sabine routinely gets interrupted during meetings, and gets negative remarks in her reviews for instances when she’s assertive, whereas Jens’s assertiveness got him noticed earlier in his career and promoted quickly.

Jens and Sabine are having a discussion about how to best move forward with a project, and as they are expressing their differing opinions. Jens is immediately rather dismissive of Sabine’s proposal, and pretty quickly the chat is getting a bit heated. At one point Sabine, having been dismissed one too many times by Jens, makes a salty remark in Slack. Jens makes a formal complaint.

Sabine is taken aside by her manager who emphasizes the company’s culture of “assume positive intent” and is asked to apologize for the remark since Jens wasn’t explicitly saying anything inflammatory. She gets moved off of the project. Interestingly, Jens was never asked to assume positive intent on Sabine’s part when she made the salty remark.

To assume positive intent in practice requires that you’re doing so from a place of feeling psychologically safe. If you ask two people to assume positive intent from one another, but one person routinely lives with a constant baseline level of harassment in their life, setting this expectation is being burdensome on that person in a way it’s not burdening someone who hasn’t had those experiences.

If a woman in a bar hears her hundredth crass pickup line from a man, many of whom have gotten a little aggressive with her in the past, you can’t reasonably expect her to assume positive intent the way that you expect a man getting a genuine and polite compliment from a woman to.

If you’re setting policy, “assume positive intent” is a good guideline for communication, but you shouldn’t codify it into your policy, because it’s not a policy that treats different members of your team equitably.

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