Discover more from Dancing Monkeys
Mac Power Users
What I’m Reading
First song demo in 20 years
It was a privilege to be invited as a guest to the Mac Power Users podcast a few years ago, and a surprise to be asked back. The latest episode covers my move to a Mac-focussed game dev setup for mobile development, and the use of a couple of monstrous screens. It seems that you can’t have too much screen, and in my case, you can’t have too small a keyboard.
Listen to it here, or in your favourite podcast app, which really should be Overcast in case you’re wondering.
In this newsletter, I’m going to cover in more detail some of the areas touched on in the podcast, for those of you curious about my setup and my rationale for the approach.
I'm a lot more laptop focussed, which is odd given that I've been stuck at home for coming up to a year. I now have two computer workstations, one in the Shashed, one indoors in a spare room, that during lockdown has allowed me an alternative space to work in, with alternate focus.
By the way, there are no affiliate links below.
The Shashed is for laptops now. Both my beloved MacBook Pro 16 and my less beloved, but very capable Dell XPS 17 9700 are resident here, sometimes at the same time on the same, incredibly wide monitor.
I use a Twelve South BookArc stand for laptops, which isn't the right size, as I've had it for years. The Brydge vertical dock for the MacBook Pro 16 which I bought in the mists of 2020 still hasn't arrived, but I expect that soon, and that will mean I can leave the stand hooked up to the Caldigit all the time.
The Caldigit TB3 is connected to an LG49" UW monitor, which at 5120x1440 is like having five full sized windows side by side and has helped particularly with video games development, with more than enough space for a Unity window and a JetBrains Rider setup for code editing.
I also have a pair of old Genelec 1029a studio monitors hooked up to an Apollo Twin Duo, which is connected to the opposite side of the MacBook Pro that the Caldigit is connected to in order to make best use of the separate Thunderbolt controllers. My Schiit stack goes into the Caldigit, so when I'm standing at my Herman Miller Ratio sit/stand desk, I'll sometimes listen to music through the monitors, but more often through the HE560 headphones connected to the stack.
Spare room setup
This is where I have my desktop machines. The contrast between them is striking. On the one hand I have the M1 Mac mini, the base model, which I've never heard, weighs so little that it really should come with some sticky pads on the bottom to stop it sliding around and on the other, I have an AlienWare Area 51, which is quite old now, enormous, but rocks an NVIDIA GeForce RTX2080 Ti, so it's good for gaming. This machine makes a lot of noise even when it's doing nothing.
The Mac mini sits on top of a slim third party base unit that gives me lots of USB ports and SD slots, as well as acting as a hard drive enclosure for a 2TB Crucial SSD.
Both of these machines are hooked up to an LG CX 48" OLED display at 3840x2160 at 60fps. I also have a PS5 hooked up to this beautiful TV. It sits back further than a normal monitor, on a big functional desk. Above the TV is a Sony a6500 with a Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens held in place with a Manfrotto Magic Arm with the Super Clamp affixing it improbably to the window sill. This is used for video calls and gives me a beautiful, natural bokeh.
I also keep my podcast setup here. I use a Neumann KMS 105 plugged into a Sound Devices MixPre-3 II. Even though I'm not a full-time podcaster, I take my audio seriously and wanted a simple setup that works every time. Despite my lofty aims, this setup has to go into a computer, my trusty MacBook Pro, which despite being a world apart from any PC, is still not 100% reliable in giving me a repeatable setup between episodes. I've just grown used to an inevitable entropy with any computer setup. As soon as eCamm Call Recorder for Skype works with the M1 chips, I’ll be switching to the Mac mini for podcasting. This is currently the only weakness in my separation of areas.
I also have a Shure MV7 as a backup USB C mic. It can do XLR, but if there's ever an emergency, I can just go with that, and it's attached to a Rode PSA1 boom arm, always ready to go, just in case. I’ve had to use it once, and have also used it to record dev commentary for a Floor 13: Deep State video.
I probably have an unhealthy obsession with headphones and keyboards.
My favourite keyboards right now are the Keyboardio Atreus in its walnut enclosure, in Colemak configuration with blank keycaps sat atop Kailh Pink switches. It's wired, but it's by far the most comfortable keyboard I've ever used. I also use the Ergodox EZ Planck, two of them in fact, with Kailh Gold switches. All of these keyboards are set up to use Colemak.
I am able to switch seamlessly between QWERTY and Colemak, but sometimes, I get brain freeze and get stuck in Colemak and will need to switch away from QWERTY keyboard so that I can use Colemak. I also have a couple of Keychron keyboards, a K3 and a K6.
Since having numerous surgeries and procedures on my hands, minimising overuse injuries is my priority.
HiFiMan HE560 going into a Schiit stack for working at my standing desk at the Shashed.
Arctic SteelSeries Pro for wireless gaming and the occasional Zoom call when done on my PC
Like I said, I take my audio seriously, and have use cases for all of these. It’s excessive I know, but I’m 55, I don’t drink, I don’t do holidays, I don’t go out (even before lockdown) and it’s all legit business expenses. I’m listening to Aphex Twin on my AirPods Max as I write these words. Earlier, I went out for a walk and for the outward stretch listened to Tom Watson’s audiobook “Downsizing” on my AirPods Pro.
I use Logic Pro X on the Mac, with a bunch of Waves and iZotope plugins along with the amazing Arturia Pigments and the peerless XferRecords Serum soft synths. That said, I made some podcast intro themes recently using the iPad running Cubasis 3, just to see if it can be done. It can, but for anything serious, I want to use Logic with a bunch of soft synths and outboard gear and real instruments.
This is the computer-based stuff, but as you might be aware, my first love was bass, and I have a few of those as well as other electric and acoustic instruments.
Default Folder X
Day One (This would be my desert island app)
Fork (Git client)
IA Writer (If they won't let me take Day One to a desert island, I'd choose this, I draft all my newsletters in IA Writer)
Kaleidoscope for file comparisons
Overcast (I use the iOS version on the Mac mini)
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
I use a ton of site specific browsers, but I prefer native apps, because they're usually leaner, more power-efficient and have better UI when written specifically for the Mac. I am not a fan of Electron based apps, but am using Obsidian, so I guess I’ll live.
Although I'd already bought a ton of apps over the years, I subscribe to SetApp.
I've stopped using SublimeText and Things, which surprises me because I thought I'd use both forever. Sorted has replaced Things, and JetBrains Rider is so incredibly powerful and useful for writing code in just about any language on Mac and PC, and for debugging and refactoring, that I don't think I could use anything else.
I use an Elgato Streamdeck, but in a very simplified way so that I don't have to think about shortcut keys when I'm switching contexts.
2. What I’m Reading
I’ve just finished Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The word “epic” is overused. I’m going to use it anyway. It’s an epic work of sci-fi, and the ending is breathtakingly moving. I’m immediately starting Children of Ruin, the sequel.
I’m also reading Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday. I buy everything Holiday writes.
I re-read Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work”, which compelled me to record a rough song demo for the first time in 20 years and to stick it on Soundcloud, because David Sparks nudged me to do it.
3. First song demo in 20 years
I had already written the lyrics a couple of weeks before, but after yet another bout of insomnia, I decided to deliver on David Sparks’ challenge and recorded a first pass rough demo of my first song in 20 years. You can hear it here. Note, it’s a song demo, it’s not a song. That means it’s rough, unfinished, unarranged, unproduced, think of it like a game prototype. I’m happy with it though, I think it’s got something. I’ll finish it soon and release another version.
4. Game Over?
I’ve finally finished the port project I’ve been working on since mid 2020, and it’s going through Apple and Google approvals as I type. I’ll be able to tell you what it is in a month or two.
So I’m looking for the next thing, and I want a challenge. Let me know if you have a challenge I can help with.
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