For the Tech of It: Hardware (Desktop)

My iMac and monitor set-up

I am frequently asked about the tools of the trade. Since writing doesn’t usually involve sawdust or any sort of protective goggles, those tools are pretty much digital.1 So, I’m going to do some BLogs wherein I go through my digital toolbox, starting today with where most of my work gets done: On my desktop.

imacUp above, you can see a shot of my current set-up. Yes, my desk is always this neat and organized.2 Unlike pretty much every other author in the known universe, I don’t use — or even own — a laptop. I love the nice big 21″ screen on my 2011 iMac.3 I can crank up the font size as big as I want, kick back in my chair, and write.

dell monitorTo the right of the iMac, you’ll notice a second screen. That’s a Dell 1704FPT. It’s a relatively ancient monitor, but a recent addition to my set-up. For years, I’ve read about how a second screen can increase productivity and I’ve always wanted to dabble in it. But monitors can be sort of expensive, and my desk’s configuration isn’t really designed for a second monitor. However, I reasoned that a smallish monitor (the Dell is only 17 inches) might fit…and that if I went for an older monitor, the cost wouldn’t be too high. That way, if I ended up not liking the two-screen solution, I wouldn’t have wasted big bucks on a nice, high-end monitor.

Well, let me tell you: That monitor is the best 35 bucks I’ve ever spent on eBay.4 I love it. It’s just right size for the space on my desk and it allows me to keep certain apps and windows segregated from the main display. The other day, I was trying to figure something out in Photoshop, so I ran the tutorial video on the Dell and had Photoshop open on the iMac. It was perfect. Plus, the monitor acts as a USB hub, so it’s expanded my available USB ports without requiring a separate hub cluttering up my desk. You can never have too many USB ports.

For input, I rock the Apple Magic Mouse that came with the iMac. I’ve seen a lot of places online where magic mousepeople rag on the Magic Mouse for being unergonomic, but I have to say that it fits my hand perfectly. I love the buttonless design. I tweak the Magic Mouse with a way-cool piece of software called BetterTouchTool. It adds all kinds of functionality to the Magic Mouse, so that I can sweep through Spaces with just a swipe, start and stop iTunes playback with a tap, and stuff like that. Very customizable and it really beefs up the Magic Mouse.

And here’s where most of the work really happens:

My magical keyboard.

That, friends, is the MacAlly iKey keyboard, a relic of the late nineties, back when I bought a PowerMac G4 tower. I hated the keyboard that came with the G4, so I bought this little baby, and I’ve used it ever since. With the exception of a couple of chapters of Boy Toy (written on an old laptop) and the times when I decamp for a coffeeshop to write with my iPad, every word I’ve ever published has been typed on this keyboard. Yes, it is magical and when it finally dies, I figure my writing career will be over; they don’t make ’em any more.

I use a wrist-rest because RSIs like CTS are no fun.

So, that’s the main set-up. Let’s take a quick look at the peripherals:

My printer is a Brother HL-2270DW. I don’t know why printer companies insist on using such my printerridiculous naming schemes, but there you have it. There’s nothing exceptional about this printer; it’s your basic laser printer and it fits in the small space available to it in my cramped little office. I bought this particular flavor because I’ve had good luck with Brother printers in the past, it was pretty cheap, and it’s wireless (so I can share it with my wife without cables). Oh, and it also prints on both sides of the paper. That wasn’t a requirement, but it’s nice to have. The ink isn’t terribly expensive, either. It holds about 250 sheets of paper (or half a Lyga novel, heh) and also does envelopes, etc. The usual. It has survived multiple printings of The Book That Will Kill Me, so you know it’s gotta be sturdy!

And rounding out the peripherals, we look above the iMac, to a shelf unit built into the desk:

computer peripherals

So, from left to right:

  • An iomega eGo Desktop 2TB hard drive. I bought this as a Time Machine backup drive for my iMac several years ago. I believe they are now discontinued, so no link. It was a fine backup drive for a while, but it started getting flaky and slow, so I decommissioned it from service. Now it serves as a holding place for big files that I don’t want to keep on my main drive.
  • Seagate Backup Plus. Another 2TB drive. This is my current Time Machine volume, named Rond Vidar. (The comic book geeks get it.) and it works beautifully. Nice and quiet, too, which is important to me. When I’m in the writing zone, I hate being yanked out by random clicks, whirrs, and fan-spins of a backup drive. (Seagate has remodeled the Backup Plus, so the one at that link doesn’t look like mine shown above.)
  • Next up is an ancient 2006 Mac mini with a Western Digital drive hanging off of it. Nothing to say here — these aren’t part of my writing setup at all. They form a makeshift house-wide media server.
  • Wonder Woman is perched atop my Airport Extreme, which serves up wireless to everyone throughout the house. (Except for the iMac — I have the iMac hardwired directly into the Airport since they’re right next to each other. Also, this way if something goes pear-shaped with wireless, I have a system jacked right in for troubleshooting.) This is the original model of the Airport Extreme, from way back in 2007. I should probably upgrade, but it’s been working fine, so why bother?
  • And finally, my cable modem. Which I had no say in. It came from Time-Warner Cable. Whatevs.

At one point, I had a scanner, but ran out of room for it, so I ditched it. I kinda wish I hadn’t because while there are apps that will turn your iPad into a scanner, they’re not as dead-simple as a dedicated scanner. Ah, well.

Whew! So, that’s a walk through my desktop hardware. This is the stuff that gets me through every single writing day, pretty much. Next time, I’m going to talk about backup strategies, which sounds like boring, eat-your-vegetables stuff, but seriously — it’s really important and most people I know don’t really think about it. I’ll show you how to set it and forget it so that you never have to worry about losing something again.

  1. I almost never use anything but a computer, from note-taking through to final draft. Occasionally, I’ll jot something down on a piece of paper in the unusual scenario where I can’t get to my phone, but that’s really, really rare.
  2. My desk is never this neat and organized. You wouldn’t believe the mountain of crap I had to clear off in order to take this picture!
  3. I’d love to have the 27″ iMac, but it won’t fit under the shelf unit atop my desk.
  4. Plus $8.00 for an adapter.

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