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Pretty Good Hat

Computing at Home and Computing at Work

Six-fifteen AM, coffee in hand, I’m watching the Mavericks download progress bar on my mid-2009 MacBook Pro, my home PC. I skipped Mountain Lion on this Mac, so I imagined as this process began that I’d have quite a bit to get used to. Coffee finished, I went for a nice run at the gym (morning temp here was 22º F and I’m not crazy) and came home to find the upgrade ready to install; clicked go and went out to breakfast; came home and logged in to my new Mavericks install. So far, so seamless!

I’m not really a Mac power user anymore. Time was, I had a finely tuned academic Mac productivity toolchain; contributed lots of code to TextMate bundles; knew the guts of my LaTeX configuration inside and out; was all up in GTD’s grill. But now that the Mac is my home-not-work machine, there’s actually not so much to catch up with when I upgrade, and there’s less to be had from the carefully crafted Mac Productivity Workflows I used to invest in. While I still do plenty of stuff at home, the volume of information I’m organizing and working with is just so substantially smaller than in the course of my Day Job, that the return, for example, on re-tooling my To-Do list system in Alfred is pretty low.

Much of this is attributable to mobile: The slick workflow for posting to this site is based in Editorial now, as opposed to the Mac desktop, and if I want a reminder of something (bills due), my iPhone works far better at that than my MacBook Pro simply because it’s always there, while I spend much less time on the actual computer than when I was a stay-at-home grad student. Meanwhile, BYOD at work has concentrated even more information and interaction on my iPhone than before — but unlike the home Mac desktop, it’s relatively hard to bring the sophistication of iOS (say, OmniFocus) into the tools I spend most of my time on during my day job.

Aside: So I started this post early on a weekend morning a few weeks ago, and so far Mavericks is just a very nice experience. I’ve read The Siracusa Review and it’s a good example of the detail that I love to read but may not actually need: Back in the day, tags would have been revelatory — TAGS! — but now, no project living on my home Mac is so big that I need them. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

This matters because I get a lot of reward from using tools that are interesting, effective, and sophisticated. Doing one’s work is about more than the end deliverable, right? The process matters, too, and if I like doing the work then the product is better for it (not to mention I’ll do it again). Now, in my work environment there’s only so much room to explore process because enterprise environments aren’t as flexible as start ups or academia (see recent episodes of ATP on enterprise software for much more; I have a few draft thoughts about this, too perhaps forthcoming). But in that space I find a great deal of energy and frequently recharge my productivity batteries.

By way of example, I have for a while used emacs' org-mode for note taking, but have felt it getting cumbersome as a place to do actual writing in, so I retooled a little bit, picked up MikTeX and a Tufte-style LaTeX template and started drafting ideas related to some emerging projects. I can write in markdown and build a beautiful document, and it’s fun so I enjoy the thinking more.

$ pandoc -o work-thing.pdf --latex-engine=xelatex --template=template-tufte-handout.tex

Just feels good. Now, sharing that work (at least in a format that my co-workers can revise instead of simply admire) requires further transformation, but that’s okay; I’m getting what I need out of it at the right point in the process. To be clear, this work is rewarding all by itself because I have interesting problems and great colleagues; but there’s always room for a nicer toolkit of ways in which to work.