jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Avoiding Complexity

I’ve noticed a tendency in my Mac setup to veer towards higher levels of complexity. In truth, I’d rather not use anything outside of the Apple provided ecosystem, but for one reason or another I’m constantly drawn to other apps and command line tools. It is a struggle to find balance between applications that actually enhance my productivity, and distractions that pull me away from the task I’m attempting to use my computer for.

The Mac comes preinstalled with just about everything you need, but not everything you might want. For example, Spotlight works well as an application launcher, but I install Quicksilver and use it instead. I’ve also adopted David Spark’s Paperless methodology for filing documents, and use both TextExpander and Hazel extensively. The keychain works fine for storing passwords, but I use 1Password, although that may change in the future.

I use Microsoft Office for work, because, lets face it, sometimes you just need Office. I use OmniFocus to keep track of the big things in life that need done, although I could probably switch to Reminders. I use NVAlt for notes, but I could probably use the built in Notes app since I use it so infrequently.

There are a few other applications I have installed; Backblaze for additional backups, ScanSnap for scanning and OCR, Hibari for Twitter, ReadKit for news and long form reading. I use Caffeine to keep my Mac from going to sleep when I don’t want it to, and Moom to provide better window management. I need Firefox because some web apps, especially older ones, do not work properly with Safari. VMware Fusion for a Windows XP machine I need for work, and instead of MacVim or TextEdit I’m using IA Writer for text.

Suddenly the number of applications I like to have running or available seems rather long, and I start wondering what I absolutely need and what I can live without. With a new version of OS X on the horizon, there may be a few of these that don’t make the jump.

In college I used LaTeX to get through math. While my classmates struggled with the Word equation editor, LaTeX worked wonderfully to create beautiful PDF documents with precise and accurate formulas. LaTeX was the right choice for that environment, but since leaving college I’ve struggled to find an appropriate use for it in my day to day work. Since I no longer have a need to create detailed mathematical reports, I haven’t bothered to install the 4+ gigabyte MacTeX package.

I’ve used vim for many years, and have grown accustomed to the way it works, so much so that I adopted it as my main text editor for writing prose as well as code. Unfortunately, vim can be a deep rabbit hole. There is so much to learn, and it can be extended in so many ways, that it is tempting to spend hours upon hours perfecting my own special witches brew of settings and plugins. But, spending time like that isn’t really getting anything accomplished. At the end of those hours I haven’t written any words, only prepared my editor. MacVim as well has been left off the list of software I install. At least until I start spending serious time writing code again.

I’ve deliberately avoided installing Homebrew. Part of it is to avoid complexity, part of it is to keep from having a lot of “stuff” installed that I don’t know if I need or not, and part of it is to try to stay out of the command line as much as possible. Even though I know it is there, I can also see a future where the command line is no longer available, and I’d like to not live in the past. The one exception to my avoidance of he command line is Jekyll, which I use to publish this site.

Because I know how to customize my computer, and because I know how to use the command line to install from source, the possibilities of what I could be doing at any given time on my Mac are endless. However, it is a matter of personal responsibility and self control to keep my Mac as clean, simple, and focused on the task at hand as possible.

mac setup