Behind the Screens: Blair’s blogging workstation and at-home multimedia server

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Behind the Screens is a new weekly 9to5Toys series that takes you through our writers’ setups, be it mobile, desktop, gaming or home theater. Next up is Blair Altland, a 9to5Toys editor.

As a pretty much full-time student, I don’t have the luxury of a dedicated office or workplace that I’d ideally love to come home to. This makes my setup a bit unorthodox compared to most, and while it’s a bit cramped, the space that I do have is put to great use.

Like many other on-the-go-oriented folks, my workstation is centered around my trusty space gray 13-inch MacBook Pro. As someone who previously upgraded from a MacBook Air, I absolutely adore the slim form-factor and still can’t believe a pro-grade machine can fit in such a lightweight design with little compromise.

By far my least favorite aspect of my desk setup is in fact the desk itself. It’s small, beginning to show its age and is by no means ideal. But hey, it’s what I’ve got and does get the job done.

Macbook Pro |

The real star of my workstation is the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. Having 4 USB-C ports is ideal in my book, and something I haven’t thought twice about since picking up the Pro last year. The screen is hands down one of the best I’ve used of any laptop and booting up to transferring files is always reliably speedy.

Apple’s latest Pro form-factor may very well be one of the more controversial releases. Some love it, others, not so much. I just happen to fall into the former category, with my 2016 MacBook Pro being a delight to use on a daily basis.

At this point, I just about live in Safari, Slack, Notes and Xcode. Tweetbot is always hanging around, as well. If you’re really curious to see what I’m up to, you can check out my productivity here.

Monitor |

Most of my day’s work is spent in some mobile configuration, so the 13-inch screen works when out-and-about. But more real estate is always better, so at home I connect to a Dell 29-inch UltraSharp Monitor. In the past I’ve previously relied on a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, but I much prefer the UltraWide aspect ratio now. This monitor is definitely on the more affordable side, so it lacks USB-C and 4K, but I’ve been loving it so far.

Headphones |

I almost always have audio playing, be it some groovy tunes or the occasional podcast. AirPods are normally my go-to for most of the day, and they’re a delight for traveling to class. But when I can hunker down at my desk and need to get some serious work done, the Sennheiser HD598 are always there to back me up. Since upgrading to the MacBook Pro, I unfortunately still have yet to pick up a USB-C interface, but even without a proper DAC, they still output crisp, rocking sound.

Speaker |

After holding out long enough for the arrival of the HomePod throughout the end of last year, I finally caved and picked up a Sonos Play:1. So far, it’s the most compelling standalone speaker I’ve owned. Native Apple Music playback is a treat and the fact that it integrates with Amazon Alexa as well as Home Assistant gives me one more device to tinker with and tie into my smart home. But as much as I love it,  I’m counting down the days until my HomePod does in fact arrive.

Toys |

This is 9to5Toys after all, and no workstation is complete without a little fun, be it some knickknacks, family photos or pieces of memorabilia. As of now, two LEGO Star Wars BrickHeadz are keeping my desk company, but the rest of my apartment is full of other collectibles.

A variety of Philips Hue bulbs line my space giving off great ambient lighting. A Hue Go sits behind my MacBook Pro, taking the place of a light strip. Some Elgato Eve HomeKit accessories are typically around my workstation too, one for monitoring the temperature and humidity and another to quickly set scenes when I don’t want to wake anyone up with Siri.

Home Server |

As a computer science student and home automation enthusiast, I do a lot of tinkering in my free time. On the direct other side of workstation you’ll find my pride and joy; a multi-computer server that handles my media, backups, smart home backend and Xcode build server. Having a door behind my desk is typically bothersome, but the fact that I can run cables through the gap does have its perks.

This is by far the most utilitarian part of my entire setup, with 3 different older Mac models doing the heavy lifting. It’s not beautiful by any means, but has served me well over the past few years as it has grown.

Of course, you’re probably dying to know the specs, so the 2011 Mac Mini is packed with 16GB of RAM and a 500GB SSD, the 2012 MacBook Pro also has the same configuration and then a pretty underwhelming 2010 MacBook Pro is equipped with 6GB of RAM and a 200GB hard drive. These are all supported by 10TB of storage across several hard drives.

A few services that I run are:

Future Plans |

Currently, there’s not much I’d realistically change with my setup. It’s comfy, offers a workflow that makes getting things done a bit quicker and suits my needs. That being said, the second I get my own place, I’ll be picking up the biggest desk I can find.

More Behind the Screens:

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