Personalizing My Laptop

I’ve had my 2016 13-inch Macbook Pro since it came out three years ago. It runs macOS Mojave 10.14 (a fact I just learned for the purpose of writing this blog post). Before that I used Microsoft Windows on various PCs for about a decade.

This isn’t a post about hardware though. It’s an overview of how I’ve set my laptop up to help me stay productive. I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my laptop, but here’s what’s working for me.

This is my desktop. The background is a dark mode edited version of the Cognitive Bias Codex, which can be found here.

My wallpaper is the Cognitive Bias Codex. While I don’t believe I can fully subdue all of these biases, it certainly helps me to be aware of them. One of my favorites is the Google Effect, which is the tendency to forget anything that can be readily found online. I think that partially explains why my memory can feel so fragmented at times.

You’ll maybe also notice a couple other things:

  • A super crowded Dock
  • Very few desktop folders (I use macOS’s stacks feature)
  • A couple background applications on the menu bar at the top

Let’s hit them one by one!

My Super Crowded Dock

Safari, Chrome, Firefox: On the far right are three web browsers. I’m a web developer, and I believe it’s important to test how your site works on all browsers — not just the most popular one (Chrome at the moment). See here for more on that philosophy. But I also find in order to compete with Chrome, browsers like Firefox are routinely adding nifty features.

Facetime, Messages, Slack: Because I like being able to communicate agnostic of whether I’m on my phone or laptop.

Thinkorswim by TDAmeritrade: From the Summer of 2018 where I got really interested in high frequency trading. I still think this app offers unrivalled analysis and custom indicators for financial markets.

Spotify (Desktop App): The Desktop App lets me customize my Spotify Playlist cover photos. That’s the only reason I use it over the web player.

Calendar, AirDrop, System Preferences, iTunes, QuickTime, App Store, Notes, TextEdit, Preview: Some MacOS staples

Minecraft: The only game I will always have in my dock. I even have a shortcut to the mods folder.

Kindle: Again, I really like the seamless integration between my phone and laptop. It’s nice to be able to pick up a book exactly where I left off.

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom: I have InDesign and Illustrator, but as a photographer I use these two the most.

Microsoft Office (Word, Powerpoint, Excel): College student staples.

Command E: A productivity tool for simultaneously searching all my various Google Drive accounts for a file.

Final Cut Pro & Gifski: I used Adobe Premiere Pro for years and found it exceptionally slow at rendering videos compared to Final Cut. Hence, this is my go-to video editor of choice. Gifski (convert videos to GIFs) is made by the same developer who wrote ImageOptim (losslessly compress images to smaller file sizes for the web). I love both tools.

Sublime, Atom: My go-to hackable text-editors of choice.

FileZilla: When I first downloaded Filezilla back in 2015, it seemed kinda suspicious (I guess its name is very ’00s-esque like GoDaddy or HostGator). But this is my SFTP client of choice, and it’s just been a breeze everytime I’ve used it.

SourceTree: One of my mentors at my recent internship showed me how to use SourceTree to better visualize version control flow when working on a software engineering team. It’s truly indispensible once you figure your way around it. I still love using the command line for quick simple edits, but SourceTree helps me with more complex tasks like resolving merge conflicts.

Terminal: A coder staple.

Activity Monitor and Little Snitch: I’m a control freak over everything on my computer. When I download an application, I expect it to perform its intended functionality without extraneous background processes that utilize my CPU. Adobe is the worst offender here. Activity Monitor lets me ensure that my CPU is allocated to programs I am actually using. This is so important for saving battery life. Little Snitch is one of the best apps I’ve ever paid for. It tells me exactly what signals my computer is sending out, and what is coming in via a user-friendly interface–sort of like being able to look under the hood of your car to diagnose issues. I’ve used it to effectively block Adobe from commandeering my CPU.

Other Applications I Love: DaisyDisk (for anyone curious about what’s taking up all the space on their computer), Docker (for developers), 2Do (a to-do app that honestly is overkill in functionality which is why I love it)

Very Few Desktop Folders

The only folders I keep on my desktop are:

Background Applications

  • f.lux which automatically adjust my laptop from blue light to yellow light as the sun sets. Bright blue light is harsh on your eyes if you’re working late at night (which as a college student I often am) + it’s better for sleep hygiene.
  • Magnet: Magnet helps you have multiple windows open, sized however you please. This is particularly helpful since Microsoft Office windows are a pain to resize and move around on macOS
  • Little Snitch: Which I raved about above to help me control exactly what signals go in and out of my computer. I’ve bought the full version.
  • Bluetooth & Display Preferences: 2 macOS staples that help you give presentations at various places without “experiencing technical issues” + useful for dual monitors or wireless headphones

Flat OSX Icon Pack + LiteIcon:

  • Flat OSX Icon Pack: These are my go-to icons because I’m super minimalist and the flat designs appeal to me. They’re free to use!
  • LiteIcon: You’ll need to follow the steps there to get LiteIcon to work, which will enable you to adjust the icons of default OSX applications (like Safari and Finder). LiteIcon is free to use, so consider donating!

Documents Folder Organization for College

This one might seem pretty standard, but this is how I organize my College Folder. I’ve added a ‘z’ before my earlier years to keep the most relevant folders at the top. I also organize resume’s by date.

Web Browsing

Now while my philosophy is to develop for the whole web, Chrome is my browser of choice. The extensions ecosystem it offers helps me be much more productive as a developer with extensions such as Vue.js devtools and web developer. You can also see I’ve organized my bookmarks into various folders. One of my favorites is Utilities, which contains a Javascript snippet to edit any text on a webpage.

One of the niftier things I’ve done is create a custom (locally hosted) Google Chrome extension for the old format of Reddit that gives it a minimalistic appearance. It’s just a fun personal project for now, and it’s far from perfect for public use. I do prefer using it for browsing Reddit though.

And that’s all for now (you might think I’m a bit psycho if you were to see how methodolically I organize my external hard drives for photography)! If you find this kind of stuff cool, I highly recommend Nikita Voloboev’s GitHub, which makes me look disorganized and slobby.

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