With notes on microphones, Apple’s Magic Keyboard, laptop stands, and my [gasp!] new email client, MailMate.
Suddenly everyone’s working from home. Ours isn’t that big — in particular, only one office — and there are three other people working or studenting from it, so instead I’ve been using our boat. It’s cramped but scenic. As the number of weeks that I’ll be doing this stretches out into the unknowable future, there’s a chance for geek accessorization! I believe that in these days those of us who still have incomes should make a little effort to spread it around, especially when it might boost our productivity a bit, or anyhow our morale.
Audio · My job involves meetings every day. I viscerally loathe headphones after the first hour or so; in my tiny boxy office at work I have decent audio and a big ugly Shure MV51 mike that I don’t love; its aesthetic is brutalist and it doesn’t work well with Amazon Chime echo cancellation, so I often have to do the fast-finger unmute/mute when I want to talk.
For the boat I got an MV5 which is smaller, prettier, and plays nicer with Chime. Highly recommended.
The boat has a stereo that while lousy includes Bluetooth, so I send the Mac audio there. The speakers in the cabin ceiling are shitty but still better than those on the ancient 2015 MBPro I’m nursing along until corporate starts shipping the new 16" with the good keyboard. Speaking of which….
Keyboard · I have a decent little Dell 24" 4K outboard monitor and I was just parking the laptop in front of it and using its keyboard and trackpad. And this wasn’t terrible but I was really short on desk space for tea and snacks and phone and notepad.
I’ve been using and liking Apple outboard keyboards forever so I got a “space grey” Apple Magic Keyboard and wow, it was good before but it’s better now. There’s no longer a distinction between wired and Bluetooth, they’re all wireless now, but come with a USB for charging.
To set it up you plug in the USB and by the time you look at the screen there’s a popup saying “Bluetooth keyboard paired kthsby.”
The key travel and feel are perfection, and it’s quiet, which I like and is basic courtesy in a person who lives in videoconferences.
There’s one awful flaw though, which I discussed in 2008: The keyboard intelligently includes big phat arrow keys and the Home/End/Delete cluster, but stupidly insists on having the numeric keyboard, of interest only to accountants. I regret the waste of scarce desk surface.
Stand · I have two problems with the Mac being on the desktop. First, chronic neck pain from a lifetime of looking down at laptops. Second, everybody I teleconference with gets a view featuring my grizzled neck and chin. So I went looking for a stand and, on the Wirecutter’s recommendation, bought a Roost. It’s a really slick piece of design.
But take a moment and look at the enclosed instructions. I first unfolded them late at night in dim lamplight and thought they were glyphs scrawled in blackened blood by a giant tentacle on the vast walls of R’lyeh; words no human throat could form, the sound of which would rip men’s minds to bleeding shreds.
I’d failed to notice the instructions until I had figured out the device, which is easy enough. Just as well, my R’lyehian is weak.
Email · At work, the server is (I think) Exchange, and you can use more or less any client that can talk to it. I started with Outlook but quickly found the Office aesthetic soul-crushing. Then I used Mail.app for a while, but it’s just slooooow. Then I moved over to Outlook Web App and yeah, that Outlook flavor, but it’s freakishly fast. (There’s this thing called a Web browser where all you need to refresh is what the human is looking at, and OWA takes good advantage.) But the composer is lame and I had to refresh too often, losing the speed advantage.
So a smart person at work recommended MailMate, saying it was “Quirky but fast and powerful” which I’d say is fair: As fast as OWA. I’m only a few days in but I’m not going back. Every single time I’ve thought “I want to make it do X” it’s turned out that there’s a nice straightforward way to get there.
One particular feature I love: It’s easy to turn off the red unread count in the Dock icon, which is a productivity plus: I want to pick the time, unprompted, when I turn my attention to my email.
I occasionally get a little lost navigating through deeply nested email threads (when something goes viral on the Amazon Principal-Engineers mailing list, you’re way into spaghetti territory). But I assume I’ll get the hang of it.
Boat as a Mac accessory · It’s not a big boat, just over 24' in length; so I’m cramped; there is exactly one place to sit, with very limited scope for squirming. There’s no HVAC system run by Other People keeping the temperature controlled.
But; it’s a treat to be down by the water (roughly here). I’m hyper-aware of each day’s changeful weather story. I perceive the passage of seasons with microscopic precision as the sun’s path changes week to week and I adjust curtains to dodge the dazzle.
I have a 25-minute bike commute that puts opening and closing punctuation around the day.
I get visits from seals, cormorants, mallards, crows, and gulls, plus there are two eagles nesting in a nearby tree.
I have a little burner to make tea on, a tiny fridge for my sandwich, and a hard narrow berth for those irresistible nap attacks.
I’m fully aware that all this is down to my decades-long run of good luck, and that I’m once again enjoying hyperoverprivilege.