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Running on Air: Eric Lawson

 Eric's home office setup
Eric’s home office setup

I first met Eric through this blog and a series of emails we exchanged about our computer needs. I shared some of my experiences and told him I had yet to run into any issues and I was using it as my primary computer. Eric explained what he did and I was intrigued that he was moving to the MBA and asked him to participate in the interview series.

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in?

I am a freelance data architect specialising in business intelligence solutions. In that role I define strategy, produce roadmaps and use Windows inside VMWare Fusion to create databases and code ETL. I also run a Tandem (HP) NonStop server running an ancient COBOL ETL suite. So its quite a mixed bag of design and coding tasks that I expect of my personal computing hardware.

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I have been using a 2012 13-inch model with a 2ghz Intel Core i7 processor, 8 gb of RAM and a 512gb SSD for about a month now. So the highest spec possible at the moment.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

I have been using various 15” Macbook Pro models over the last 5 years, the latest configured with 16gb of RAM, an SSD in the main drive bay and a 2nd large capacity 2.5” traditional disk in a caddy in the DVD bay. Most of my work was conducted with the MBP plugged into dual 24” cinema displays (now a single 27” Thunderbolt display).

The last 12-18 months has seen my career shift from less coding work into more design and increasingly I am travelling, so mobility is very important. The MacBook Pro is quite light considering what is packed inside but I began to find I couldn’t take my computing kit and a small overnight bag on a train or plane without suffering aching shoulders and or getting all red faced (not ideal when arriving at a client site).

I knew the latest generation MBA had overcome the issues of earlier models (my wife had one of the 1st gen MBA’s) so I started some research a few months back (this blog was very useful – thanks Austin). I also had a serious look at why I needed to have a terabyte of onboard storage and 16gb of RAM. It turned out I didn’t.

I have offloaded all my large Windows VM’s to external USB 3 drives and had a good cleanup of every other folder structure. I also use iPhoto Library Manager so I only keep about 6 months of media on board, then create a new library and archive the existing one. The new photo stream feature makes this process seamless.

The switch to the 13” MacBook Air has been brilliant. The reduced weight is really noticeable and it has to be the most luxurious piece of computing kit I have ever owned. When I am heading off to a customer site I just pop it into my Moshi sleeve and it fits into my messenger bag along with all the cables and bits (in a Cocoon Grid-IT) – plenty of room left for my lunch, headphones and power charger.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business?

My 27” Thunderbolt is the hub of my business computing platform. I have various G-Tech firewire drives connected to it (Time Machines, media archives & clones), plus other USB peripherals. Connecting and removing my MBA from this is very simple and quick.

To ensure business continuity Time Machine is useful for recovering document versions, but I rely heavily upon Carbon Copy Cloner and always carry a USB 3.0 SSD drive with a bootable clone of the crucial parts of my system.

Essentially I still operate as before, but everything is now much easier. My system runs as well and perhaps a bit better than on the 2012 15” MBP, although I suspect this is likely due ot the big clear out of non essential gubbins. The process has been a bit like down-sizing your house when the kids move out.

The main software packages I use for getting on with the job are

OmniGraffle Pro – this is a great bit of design / diagramming software that I use exclusively to communicate ideas from programmers through to senior executives.

VMWare Fusion 5 – this runs the production Windows clients I need and allows me to spin out new dev VM’s very quickly from baseline copies.

Keynote – delivering presentations using Keynote on a MBA is excellent. No worries about connecting to projectors, battery life (if no spare power points) and the iOS Keynote Remote app is a great addition.

Tweetbot, Pocket and Springpad – Research and networking via TweetBot is increasingly important to me and sending items into Pocket for reading later and filing of useful items in Springpad is very productive for me.

and recently Filemaker Pro 12 – this product is as different from SQL Server as you can get but its a great solution for SME’s and it gives me a good range of options.

5. Which has been the best thing about using your air to run your business?

The weight of the machine has put pleasure back into doing my work and this enables me to get my whole office into a small messenger bag.

To learn more about Eric check out his website here or you can follow him on twitter @ericjlawson.

Thank you so much Eric for taking the time. If you know anyone else who is using their MacBook Air to do something great please contact me.

Running on Air: Mike Vardy

A few weeks ago I was listening to Mikes on Mic’s podcast, a great show on the70decibels network. The episode was with Cal Newport on his new book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. I had seen Mike Vardy’s blog post about regarding the book so I reached out to him to see if I could interview him. Mike Vardy is one of the “Mikes” of the name sake show. He is also just about to release a new book called “The Front Nine, How to start the year you want…anytime you want” which I am really looking forward to ! 

 The Front Nine
The Front Nine

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in, what do you do?

I’m a writer, speaker, podcaster, and “productivityist” (which is a nice little portmanteua of productivity and enthusiast that I came up with). Other than having worked as an editor for Lifehack, The Next Web, and Work Awesome, you can find my writings around the web and everything else via my website, MikeVardy.com.

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I am using an 11-inch model with an 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 128 GB SSD that came out in July 2011.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

I downsized (at least in terms of girth) from my old MacBook Pro for a number of reasons, but the primary one was that my use cases had radically changed. I wasn’t doing much video editing anymore and was doing a lot more writing. And I knew I was going be traveling more. I wanted a notebook that had enough power for me to deal with the audio work I do (which basically boils down to editing the Mikes on Mics podcast using GarageBand and a variety of third-party apps) and also allowed me to be incredibly mobile. Essentially, I wanted a computer that was as efficient and effective, and I got it with this one.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business?

My MacBook Air is my main machine. I use it to write for my blog (with Byword) and I use it for longer form writing as well (I used Scrivener and Pages to assemble my latest book, due out this Autumn). I use Postbox for email, Evernote as a virtual filing cabinet (my wife and I keep a lot of shared notebooks in there now, for example), and I flip between OmniFocus and Asana for task and project management. The former is what I use for individual stuff and the latter is used for any collaborative projects.

Other apps I use to get my work done (other than the aforementioned GarageBand includes:

  • LaunchBar as my quick-launching app
  • Rdio for a variety of musical options for ambiance while I write
  • TextExpander to help my efficiency with email responses and commonly used phrases
  • Day One for journaling (very important for a writer)
  • HootSuite to manage my social media platforms
  • Buffer to share links
  • Instapaper to save links for later reading
  • Reeder to keep up with RSS (essential for the work I do in the land of productivity)
  • Fantastical to keep on top of my calendar (I use Google Calendar and Doodle as services to “build” my various calendars)
  • Hazel to keep things neat and tidy
  • Acorn for image manipulation
  • DollyDrive for backups
  • Dropbox and iCloud for syncing across platforms

There are others I use that indirectly help me with my work, but the ones I’ve mentioned are critical to keeping my workflow…flowing.

5. Which has been the best thing about using your Air to run your business?

The combination of power and portability in one package. I know that I can do anything I need to on my Air (as opposed to my iPad…although it is getting there). The versatility, portability and power that the MacBook Air possesses has made it my most valuable business tool – and the best computer I’ve ever owned.

Running on Air: Michael Schechter

One day when feeling overwhelmed by my email I started searching for other resources to help me reach Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero nirvana and came across this this post on a Better Mess. Michael Schecter did a write up explaining all the things Merlin does. From that point on I have been a huge fan of A Better Mess.

The site name stuck with me because many times I have felt like a mess and wanted and needed a way to get better. A few months later I started listening to Mikes on Mics to learn that Michael was one of the hosts.

I contacted Michael through the site contact form and he was gracious enough to participate in our series.

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in?

By day, I am the Director of Digital Sales and Marketing for Honora Pearls. A significant portion of my free time is spent working on my site, A Better Mess, as well as my Podcast, Mikes on Mics.

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I’m still going strong with my late–2010, [13“ Air]3 with the 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. I still get envious when I see the keys light up on my wife’s 11” Air, but even with the recent performance bumps, I haven’t felt the need to upgrade just yet.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

At the time I had been working on a 15“ MacBook Pro and I really wanted to kill some weight in my briefcase. I had some real concerns about making the switch. I work on a 27” Mac at work and was very used to having the extra real estate on both of my machines. It was an adjustment at first, but time and the introduction of full screen mode in Lion have made my MacBook Air my favorite environment for getting lost in my work (although I will admit that it can be a pain when wanting to work with two browser windows side-by-side). I also have massive iTunes and iPhoto libraries. Considering I was running up against the 356GB constraints of my Pro at the time, the drop to 256GB required me to rethink the way I manage my data. Now, all iTunes and iPhoto apps are stored on an external 1TB Western Digital drive that’s about the size of a deck of playing cards and has given my MBA plenty of room to breathe.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business? Well, for the sake of this interview, let’s limit this to the site and podcast. As I mentioned the majority of my weekdays are spent on a 27″ Mac. However both of these Macs are very much aligned so I can do work for either aspect of my life from either machine.

I tend to use a lot of apps, so let me try and break it down to my essentials:

OmniFocus – This app keeps me sane and serves as the central nervous system for my professional and personal life. It has an amazing task clipper that makes it possible to create a task from just about anything on my Mac.

Mailplane – I love Gmail for its keyboard shortcuts, I hate it for its need to live in the browser. Mailplane essentially wraps Gmail in an application. It also plays nicely with OmniFocus making it easy to create tasks from emails along with a link back to the relevant message.

Fantastical – I used to despise my calendar. Entering even a single task was an awful experience. Fantastical on the other hand makes entering and searching your calendar simple. It’s only ever a keyboard command away and the natural language features (I.e. by typing “Lunch with my brother at 2pm at The Diner” will automatically be parses into a new entry) are amazing.

nvALT – Anything I write (with the exception of some larger Scrivener projects) lives here. nvALT is my repository for just about anything written from personal notes to project outlines. I also store the database in Dropbox so I can work from either one of my Macs and my iPhone.

Byword – Whenever I’m writing more than just a few lines, I will open whatever text file I’m working on in Byword. It’s a great focused writing environment with excellent tools for formatting in Markdown (the syntax I use for nearly all my projects).

Evernote – Whereas nvALT is my repository for text, Evernote serves as my storage for just about everything else. It’s my cold store system. I also use it to eliminate just about every scrap of paper from my life with the help of my trusty Fujitsu Scansnap.

TextExpander and Keyboard Maestro – While these are two very different apps, I use them in tandem. Whenever I have a repetitive piece of my workflow I always look for ways to speed things up using these two essential applications. They are ideal for geeks such as myself who obsess over workflow, but who lack the hard core coding skills required to truly make your system your own.

Dropbox – I mentioned this earlier, but there is no better way to keep essential files and preferences for many applications synced across several devices.

1Password – I have far too many accounts and all of them used to have the exact same password. Now, thanks to 1Password, I don’t know the password to any of them, yet can quickly fill them in from all of my Macs and iOS devices.

Skitch and Acorn – Since I have the design skills of… who am I kidding, I don’t have any design skills… but for the few times I need visuals, Skitch is great for capture and Acorn makes it easy for even the most unskilled of web designers to make something passable.

CrashPlan – as a recent victim of a home burglary, I can attest to the need for offsite backups. I’m just getting started with CrashPlan, but their seeded upload made it easy to securely backup massive amounts of data to the cloud without having to leave my MacBook Air running non-stop for months on end in order to do so.

Safari – Last but not least, I’ve been thrilled since I gave up my overwrought-with-extensions-browser-of-choice Firefox in favor of Apple’s own offering. I use very few extensions and have only a few bookmarks that allow me to quickly trigger things like sending posts to Instapaper.

5. Which has been the biggest advantage about using your air to run your business? (why has the air made that special)

Interoperability. I know that many people are moving to iOS for a substantial amount of their everyday tasks, but the lack of seamless integration between many apps has made this a non-starter (although I do a significant amount of my writing, including this post, on my iPhone). For slightly more bulk than my iPad, it’s possible for me to have essentially the same workflow I get on my office computer. And as a big user of apps like TextExpander and Keyboard Maestro, all of my little tricks add up to serious time saved.

Website URL: http://BetterMess.com
Email address: http://BetterMess.com/Contact

If you know someone who is running a business or using an Air to do something cool please have them send me an email or contact me on twitter.

Finding pace and peace with rituals

Last week Micheal Schecter from A Better Mess wrote a post called Find the Ritual In Your Routine. I have been thinking a lot about that piece. I have mostly been thinking about my own habits and the affect they have on me. What I have found with some habits is they have a similar result on me as the Getting Things Done Methodology. A quieter brain. If I don’t have to think about them they do not bounce around and produce undue anxiety.

Michael is right about how the routines can be heavy but my thought is there can be some huge benefits in terms of the routine.

Our routines can weigh on us. At first their consistency can be a comfort, but over time it tends to grow into something we dread. You can try shaking things up, but inevitably many aspects of our lives become routine.

Some of my habits/routines:

  • Carry habit: iPhone in left front pocket, keys in right front pocket, wallet in right rear and fieldnotes in the left. Maintaining this “habit” prevents me from worrying were things are. Also prevents that TSA-like pat down we all give ourselves when we are looking to see if we have everything before we leave the house.

  • Setting up a landing zone: This is a simple place where when you get home from work you dump all your stuff in your pockets. This way I always know where it is.

  • Coffee habit: I almost always get a grade quad Starbucks Ristretto Americano with vanilla in it(sorry @marcoament). The odd thing here is when I place the top on the cup I make sure the pour spout is 180 degrees opposite the cup seam. This way when I grab the coffee in the car I can use my fingers to make sure I know where the spout is before I raise it to my mouth. Preventing a hot mess in my lap.

  • Coffee Habit #2: I usually get coffee 2x a day. Morning and afternoon. Part of the process of getting coffee gets me out of my head and allows for a temporary change of scenery. While many might find this distracting, this generally allows me to step away from the work at hand and think about it differently for a few minutes.

These are silly examples. Perhaps OCD like ways to tame your mind to allow you to focus on other things, or maybe they are just nuts. I think everyone has routines, and I am willing to bet no two are exactly alike. But the key thing is:

I agree with Michael in the value of separating the items into have and want items. Trying to find the balance is the difficulty I suspect many of us go through.

photo credit: pierofix via photo pin cc

Introducing blocs.tv !

Today is a big day for me, primarily for personal reasons. I have been working hard on a side project for about 18 months. I have hinted on this blog and started a series of posts but they remain very cryptic. I have not revealed to much as I was tying up all the loose ends and not wanting to give away to much until I was 100% good to go. I will continue to expand on them more now.

Today I launched my new product called blocs. The website is blocs.tv

Blocs.tv is an accessory to be used with the Apple TV. The bloc allows the base of the Apple TV to sit in a base and prevent it from rotating (making it easier to use your remote). In addition the base provides a space to store the remote and easily get to it.

I love technology. I love clean simple modern designs. I love tactile materials. Sometimes all the cool shiny stuff can be cold. One of the goals of the design of the product was to combine a warm organic component with a fantastic piece of technology.

 Walnut bloc
Walnut bloc

If you have a chance please go check it out and let me know your thoughts !
Use the contact form on the store, add a comment here, or you can reach me on twitter.

UNOFFICIAL: Running on Air: Jason Fried

Last week Jason Fried co-founder of 37signals wrote a post about some of the new things he likes. One of his recommendations was the 11″ MacBook Air. I reached out to Jason on twitter to try and secure an interview but I was not able to ( I am sure he is very very busy and there was no intended tone in that sentence.) But his comments were too good not to post for this series.

I recently switched from a 15” MacBook Pro to an 11” MacBook Air and I couldn’t be happier. The 11” Air is the best computer I’ve ever owned. Everything else is a distant second.

The first thing I noticed is Jason, like me, went down in screen size. He also has the money to buy anything he wants. He could have gone for a rMBP but did not. He selected the machine that fit his needs the most.

It’s my only computer. I do all my work on it. I code on it, I design on it, I browse on it, I run 37signals on it.

If this is not the best advertisement for what the MacBook Air series can do I am not sure what is.

I originally purchased an external monitor because I thought I’d need the extra space, but I’ve found I like the smaller screen of the 11”. I don’t use the external screen at all. The smaller screen keeps me focused and it’s the right size to run full-screen apps.

 Jason Fried
Jason Fried

I personally purchased a full size monitor for extended periods of work at my desk. I have no issue using the machine when I am mobile or when I need a change of scenery in my house but perhaps I should have spent more time using Jason’s method of working.

If you’ve been considering an 11” Air, and you’ve been on the fence because you’re worried the screen is too small, take a chance and pick one up. You won’t regret it.

Completely agree

Thank you Jason for your insights !

If you know someone who is running a business or using an Air to do something cool please have them send me an email or contact me on twitter.

website: 37signals
blog: Signal vs Noise
twitter: Jason Fried

PS: Check out this article in the Aug 29th issue of Inc Magazine for more insights on how this company runs.

Originality Score = 0

It seems a shame that after going through a trial that was focused on originality and copying Apple that a few days after the it ends with a decision against them that new images arrive showing Samsung’s new “original” laptop.

That would be fine if it were true, except it is a clone of the MAcBook Air. I guess on the originality side of the coin it does have a stylus but for me that falls more into the stupid category.

See the pictures and articles below:

the verge
Cult of Mac

The Prototype

Once I thought I had a potentially viable idea I needed to find out how to bring it to life. I wanted to make sure that I was able to solve the problem that I originally was having and create a better product. I knew I wanted to make the product from wood initially and branch out to other materials later. Being a weekend woodworker gave me some knowledge of how this could be created by hand. But ultimately I wanted to be able to make in it on a C&C machine to get the level of precision I was hoping for.

I started drawing feverishly. Different views, angles, site lines. I made the item bigger and smaller. I quickly filled up a Field Notes notebook with ideas. But it still was not obvious enough when someone looked at it what it was (that may still be the case). This has to be done in a 3D rendered form. I needed this in a CAD format to show others and and get better feedback. I have not used AutoCad in sometime, nor did I have a current license to upgrade. I looked around and found that I could probably use Google SketchUp to create a detailed enough drawing.

Setting aside a weekend I started playing with SketchUp. It was pretty easy to learn and there were a lot of sophisticated demo drawings out there to encourage me that this could be done. A few hours later I had my drawing prototype. I emailed it off to a few more friends to get their thoughts and any recommendations for changes. The feedback was very positive but there were some recommendations for changes as well. I updated my drawing and went to meet with my friend who had some bigger machine equipment. He liked the design and we tweaked it yet again.

What I was trying to do is create a version 1 of a product. What I did not think about at the time was what was I doing? What I later realized at the time was I was trying to create myMVP or Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is the process used to get something started in many books like the Lean Startup approach.

Next up refinement and feedback.


Step1: Ideas are Easy

Studio Neat — It Will Be Exhilarating

Yesterday I was talking with a friend about Kickstarter.  I was doing my best to explain how process works and giving her examples of successful projects that I have funded in the past. One of those examples was Studio Neat with the Glif.  This morning I opened up my reader and see that Shawn Blanc wrote a piece about a new book from the founders Tom and Dan about their expereinces over the past two years. From Shawns site to Studio Neat to check out.  Looking forward to reading “It will be exhilarating” ebook today!

 It Will Be Exhilarating
It Will Be Exhilarating