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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

What’s on my desk

I reviewed the Retina iMac knowing that I was probably going to buy one. In fact, I had already placed an order for one, but cancelled it when I realized I’d be able to spend a couple of weeks with a review unit first. You never know, right?

In any event, my first week with the Apple loaner convinced me that this was, indeed, the Mac I was in the market for. (Aided by a generous parting benefit from my former employer, which probably also makes the Retina iMac the most expensive computer I have ever bought.) But when I removed the Retina iMac from my desk to box it up and send it back to Apple, and reverted to my prior set-up of a MacBook Air and a 24-inch monitor on a boom arm, I learned something else: I really, really liked having a monitor on an arm.

When sat on a desk, the Retina iMac is an imposing glass wall. The desk space behind it, a rumor. I like having easy access to the top of my desk. It’s where I can keep pencils, pens, notepads, headphones, teacups, and other objects that would fall to the floor if they weren’t sitting on a solid surface. With a floating monitor, I had comfortable access to my desk, but with an iMac on a foot, I really didn’t. (Also, a monitor on an arm is far more adjustable than one on a desk—extra useful when you’re using a sit/stand desk.)

At that moment I realized that this meant I was going to be ordering the VESA-mountable version of the iMac. You may not know this, but up until the most recent generation of iMacs, you could mount any iMac on a wall or arm by popping off its little metal foot and screwing on a VESA mount adapter. Unfortunately, those days are now over: When you order a new iMac, you can choose a VESA version with no foot at all, or the normal footed version that will never be mountable.

I checked the weight rating on the mounting arm that I bought when I bought my desk, and it claimed to support several pounds beyond the weight of the iMac. And I swore to myself that if there ever came a time when I needed to relocate the iMac to a tabletop, I could find a VESA stand to do the job. And then I bought (for $40 more!) the VESA mount edition of the Retina iMac.

When the iMac arrived, I was visiting my mother in Arizona, but upon my return I immediately got to setting it up. Unscrewing the old monitor and attaching the iMac to the boom arm was easy. I had to tighten some of the resistance screws on the arm to compensate for the iMac’s weight, but that was easily done. And there I was, a person with a floating Retina iMac. So I took a picture and posted it to Twitter. As you do.

This picture generated a whole bunch of questions from people who were curious about my workspace. So here it is, the current state of affairs in Six Colors Global Headquarters….

The setting

I’ve talked on various podcasts about how I’ve been setting up a workspace in my garage for some time now. (I started building the garage office a year ago in preparation for leaving my job at IDG.) I feel like this gives the impression that I’m working on a metal tray perched on a stack of paint cans, but in fact the garage/office is pretty cushy at this point. We insulated the garage, installed new double-paned windows, and hung curtains to divide the office in half1.

The garage has a bare concrete floor, but my half is covered by a 12-by-12 rug made from a large carpet remnant. I’ve even got a space heater for those brutally cold Bay Area winters. (Sarcasm warning.)

Basically, it’s cozy out here. Do not shed tears for the dude in his garage.

Desk hardware

I wanted to buy a convertible sit/stand desk like the one I had in my office. After consulting with standing desk expert Lex Friedman, I ended up with the VertDesk from Beyond the Office Door. There are probably better desks—“noticeably cheap!” raves The Wirecutter—but it does the job for me, and was a pretty good value.

Along with the desk I bought a monitor arm, first for a 24-inch Dell UltraSharp display and now the iMac. The arm is the Hover Series 2 from Right Angle, and I bought it as a bundle with my desk from Beyond the Office Door.

My chair is a Herman Miller Aeron, mostly because I’ve been sitting in one of these for years and didn’t want to make any changes. When my desk is in standing position, I stand on the Imprint CumulusPro, which was the recommended choice by The Wirecutter.

On the desktop

At the back of my desk is an external speaker, which I use to listen to music while working or to play back podcast audio when I’m editing. It’s the old, much-maligned iPod Hi-Fi, which has finally found its niche in my house as an external speaker. (I also have a carrying case for it.) Some people forget that the iPod Hi-Fi has an aux jack that lets you connect any audio source. Thanks to that jack, it’s got years of useful life left in it.

The iPod Hi-Fi is attached to the audio out jack on a Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock. I bought this dock when I was docking my MacBook Air every day, because I realized that I was unable to add both Gigabit Ethernet and an external display to my laptop because both adapters used the MacBook Air’s single Thunderbolt port. Instead, I bought this dock, which allowed me to connect all my USB devices, Gigabit Ethernet, audio, and my external display to my laptop with a single Thunderbolt cable. Now that I’ve got the iMac, that’s not really necessary, but I may keep the Thunderbolt dock around just to reduce cord clutter on the desk.

Also on my desk is a Nick & Nerf BrainBall. I have two or three of these. Someone sent them to the Macworld offices along with their software or hardware or whatever. (The actual product is lost to the mists of time.) At some point I collected the extras from my co-workers who didn’t really want them. I wish they still made them. You can’t have mine.

My keyboard is the Logitech Bluetooth Easy Switch K811. I’m not a clicky keyboard person, really. I mean, I like the clicky keyboards fine, but I have gotten used to the feel of laptop keyboards over the years and can still type 110 words per minute on one. This particular keyboard has almost exactly the feel of Apple’s laptop keyboards. It’s backlit and lays almost flat, which puts it two up on Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard in my book.

I also use Apple’s Magic Trackpad for similar reasons—it’s the same thing I use on my laptop, and this way my stationary and mobile working environments remain as consistent as possible. I was never a mouse guy—I used a Kensington trackball for nearly two decades—but the trackpad has really stuck. I love two-finger scrolling, and pinch-and-zoom gestures help me edit very quickly in Logic Pro.

Podcast stuff

Off to the left of my desk is a Heil PL2T boom arm. Attached to it is a Blue Yeti microphone. I highly recommend the Yeti as an affordable yet great-sounding microphone for almost any podcaster. It’s tunable, so it can be used as an omnidirectional microphone or to capture just your voice. A headphone jack means you can hear yourself and the people you’re talking to on Skype or Google Hangouts. Yes, there are more expensive microphones, and yes, they do sound better, but for most podcasters, the Yeti is all that will ever be needed.

Floating in front of my Yeti is a Nady clamp-on pop filter, which makes those positively pernicious p-sounds stop popping. And for lighting videos, I bought a nifty LED spotlight and a Ravelli light stand.

So that’s my office setup today. But I’m not even a week into using the iMac, so I’m sure I’m going to make changes. I’ll let you know when I do. In the meantime, if you’d like to hear me talk about workspaces with Myke Hurley, this was a major topic of Upgrade episode 9.


  1. The front half is storage shelves, bike parking, and a small civilization living in cardboard boxes from Amazon.

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