Our friend Peter Rukavina recently posted his ‘setup’, in which he describes his work place, tools and routines. As did Chris Corrigan, a long time blogging connection, with whom we once spent a great afternoon talking and walking through the northern rain forest on the awesome Bowen Island he calls home. I am always interested in how others shape their work days, and what they use, so I thought I’d share my setup as well.

At home: A simple desk in the very light attic space of our home. It’s about 25m2, white, with one apple green wall plus windows along both lengths, and it has both Elmine’s and my desk, a bookcase and fold-out couch. It looks out over our neighbourhood, so you still see the daily rhythm and can watch out for the mailman or delivery guy bringing a package.
One floor down we have a room with an electrically adjustable standing desk, that Elmine and I both use.

Our home is connected to a fiber optic network, currently delivering 100Mbit symmetrical connection, that we are in the process of upgrading to a 1Gbit symmetrical connection, at the same cost (60 euro/month including tv and fixed line phone).

We live on the eastern border of the Netherlands, within viewing distance from Germany, and my clients are usually in the western part, a 2 hour train ride away, or outside the country. So I spent a large amount (somewhere between 4 and 24 hours per week) of my time in trains, where I travel first class as that comes with power outlets and a bit more room to work.

The Green Land, a company I started with 3 partners is located at Zpot, in Utrecht right in the center of the country. Zpot is a co-working space started by my The Green Land partner Frank, which provides me/us both with landing desks, and more importantly meeting rooms. Membership is 100 euro/month for the company. I hope to be there once a week, but my schedule gets in the way of that easily. We decided last week to all aim to be there on Fridays at least, to increase the amount of time we get to work together.

I use a 2014 MacBook Pro, with 1TB ssd and a few other upgrades, bells and whistles. I regard 21st century knowledge work as artisanal, and my laptop is this artisan’s primary tool. I decided a long time ago that trying to save money on the most important tool I work with is nonsensical and something I’ll pay for in frustration.

That laptop when used at the attic desk is connected to a medium Wacom Bamboo pen and touch, a usb keyboard with numerical pad (for the bookkeeping I do myself), and 2 additional screens, resulting in the picture from 2012 below (although the pen and pad have been replaced since then). Until last year the second extra screen was connected through an Terratec Connect A1 on USB, but with the new laptop I now use a Thunderbolt port and the HDMI port to connect two screens. At the standing desk the laptop is connected to a wireless keyboard.

For some travel I leave my laptop behind and use an Asus Android tablet with detachable keyboard.

The local network connects to a 2TB NAS that we both use as TimeMachine, and another 2TB NAS we both use as archive disk. It also contains a Sonos bridge that delivers music to speakers in all the rooms in the house.
I run a VPS in a Swiss data center with 30TB storage that serves as off-site back-up and cloud-sync (with versioning).

Next to a HP printer/flatbed scanner, I more often use a Fujitsu Scansnap scanner. That last one is certainly one of the best investments I made. It easily scans everything, double sided, in color and at high speed due to the sheet feeder, and saves to both the file system and Evernote.

An Ultimaker 3D printer is in our ‘standing desk room’. There is also a desk-top laser cutter and CNC milling machine, both of which currently aren’t operational (a lingering item on my todo list).

In the living room a Raspberry Pi serves as (under used) media center and we also have a Nintendo Wii that hasn’t seen much use lately.

I use a Samsung Galaxy S5 phone, and have a 1st gen iPad that has been unused since iOS evolved away from it, as well as a Samsung Galaxy Tab3 that is still in its box and untouched.

While traveling I use a noise canceling headset both on trains and planes, and a Lumix TZ60 camera (although the camera on my phone is quite good and sometimes a speedy alternative). For internet on the road I use a Huawei Mifi, with a monthly 3GB data package that also includes data roaming across the EU (next to the 2GB data bundle and EU roaming on my phone).

Desktop software
My main and daily software tools are Tinderbox (for outlining, mapping, and getting to the point of writing), Evernote (the content part of my outboard brain) and Things (the task part of my outboard brain). LibreOffice for the usual, and Scrivener for longer writes (which talks to Tinderbox).
OwnCloud is what keeps my files synced to the VPS. Smultron for coding / text file editing, and Applescript plus Automator for some routine tasks (such as opening a new project, or populate a checklist for a new speaking gig.) Tweetdeck for a range of Twitter accounts. My VPS runs a script I call ‘Radar’ which is harvesting tweets about specific topics I’m interested in, and presenting me with an overview of URLs mentioned around those topics.

Web software
Owncloud running on my VPS (which has fully replaced Dropbox), including my company’s shared files is always in the background. Flickr for photo online back-up and sharing, with too much of history to move it all to something else. Podio for working with my The Green Land partners, and Slack for emergent work interaction with a team in open hardware. Diigo (with Delicious in the background) for bookmarking. And one that I would very much like to change: Gmail for all mail. I use it webbased for seamless experience with my other devices. This is the one element in my setup I’d like to change, getting out of gmail’s servers. And blogs of course: WordPress and some Drupal sites.

Phone software
Most of the phone apps are there to have access to the same stuff as on my laptop. With some additions for travel: railroad apps for Netherlands and Germany (that also covers most of the rest of Europe), KLM and Amsterdam Airport apps. UberSocial Pro for Twitter, to maintain multiple accounts.
One app I am particularly fond off: LinkBubble. It opens links in the background from any of the other apps (like FB or Twitter), so you don’t break your flow in going through a social media stream. From LinkBubble I can easily share to Evernote, mail, or any other app.

Social routines
I don’t have a lot of regular routines, as my calendar is very different from week to week. I do have a rhythm to my day though, getting up 6:30 and approaching things in various blocks (90min the largest), with focus work in the morning, less demanding stuff in the afternoon. I try to take walks a few times per week when I work from home.

I feel the need to travel a few times each year, to expose myself to different scenes, perspectives and views, so I try to make sure I always have some international work going on. I like to regularly immerse myself in different busy cities, but need the quiet to digest and think things through, and I hate it when I can only just jump from one thing to another without that digestion time. When that happens it makes me ‘forget’ things: last week I was in Kyrgyzstan and the day before I left we organized a conference with 125 people as end point to a year long project. Because of the work in Kyrgyzstan I mostly forgot about that conference the day before and what it signified. I went through the photos of the event this week to remember and relive and take note of what happened.

Every now and then I smoke a cigar, eat a raw herring, or eat a Hema smoked sausage with mustard when I land at Amsterdam airport.

Elmine and I enjoy traveling together, and enjoy good food. I do the cooking at home. We regularly take time to visit friends in various places, but still I think I see most of them not nearly enough by far. Doing a birthday unconference and bbq as we did last June with ‘Make Stuff that Matters’ to bring a wide diversity of people to our home is how we try to give something to our social network and which is a tremendous source of inspiration to ourselves.

That’s my setup. Yours?

2 reactions on “The Setup

  1. hi Ton,
    Interesting stuff! Why did you choose Switzerland for your VPS? And a generic question: did you disable your RSS feed?


    • hi Ronald,
      The RSS feed is at http://www.zylstra.org/blog/feed/

      Switzerland, as Swiss privacy/data protection laws are a tad better there (certainly compared to NL, where the legislation has no teeth), and I was looking for a company without US ties.

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