Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Brett Terpstra

Brett Terpstra

Developer, AOL Tech (Engadget, TUAW) and nvALT

Posted in developer, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Brett Terpstra ([@ttscoff on Twitter](!/ttscoff "Brett's Twitter account.")). By day I'm a lead developer for AOL Tech, working behind the scenes on blogs like Engadget, TUAW, Joystiq and Massively. In my free time I code Mac apps---Marked and nvALT (my fork of Notational Velocity), along with all the other "mad science" found on

I have one wife (Aditi), two dogs, three cats and a parrot who hates me.

What hardware do you use?

My primary machine is a Mac Pro (2.8 GHz Quad Core Xeon) with 6 GB of RAM. I use two 23" monitors, an Apple aluminum Bluetooth keyboard and a Magic Trackpad. My iPad sits on a BookArc to my left and acts as a HUD/social center most of the time. When a musical whim strikes, I have an Oxygen 49 and a few microphones (including my beloved Blue Snowball).

My secondary machine -- and arguably my favorite computer ever -- is my MacBook Air. It was built to order with 4 GB of RAM, 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo, and a 250GB SSD. It can handle almost anything my Mac Pro can; it never ceases to amaze me.

And what software?

I mapped out the applications I've used in the last week, and the list was far too long to work with. I'll stick to my top-of-mind favorites to keep things relatively brief.


My primary work (and play) is coding. I tend to stick with TextMate, Xcode and iTerm2 most of the day. I also do a lot of web design; Espresso 2 is rapidly becoming a favorite for me when it comes to HTML/CSS editing.

I use Photoshop and Illustrator when I have to, but I love using Acorn whenever it's feasible. A new app called Gradient is awesome for CSS3 gradients, and I absolutely love ColorSchemer Studio 2 for palette design. I also dig a little app called AppControls for creating CSS3 buttons and boxes.

As a function of my job I have to use every major web browser out there. My preference is Safari. If I didn't have to have any other browsers, I might still keep Chrome around, but since version 5, Safari has been my true love.


I brainstorm in mind maps and take notes in plain text (Markdown). For the former I use a combination of MindNode Pro (quick maps), Mindjet MindManager (presentation maps) and a Fluid SSB running MindMeister (collaboration and embedding). For the latter I use nvALT almost exclusively, though my notes are all stored as individual text files (with OpenMeta tags) and can be added to, edited and searched from a plethora of apps and utilities.


I do a fair share of writing, both technical and blogging. My workflow is almost entirely Markdown-based. I favor Byword for prose, Scrivener for larger, more structured projects and TextMate for everything else. I publish to my blog (WordPress) using TextMate, and do my printing and PDF output using Marked.

I write drafts on the go with my iPhone and iPad. For as little as I'm actually "on the go," I have a depressingly wide variety of applications for such endeavors. I tend to try everything, keep what I like and never actually make up my mind. Nebulous Notes, Writing Kit and Paragraft have probably stuck around on my iOS devices the longest. I sync everything through Dropbox and it all ends up in nvALT one way or another.


I dabble in writing music and doing soundtracks for video and screencasts. I used to be a Logic Studio guy, but as my needs have simplified I've found GarageBand to be an amazing tool. I supplement it with a variety of synthesizers and effects running off of my iPad and iPhone.

When it comes to listening, I've all but forsaken my gigs of mp3 files and taken to Spotify and Musicality ( and Pandora).


I use TextExpander practically every minute. I also wouldn't want to function without 1Password, Growl, Apptivate and Tags.

Of less necessity but still among my favorites are F.lux (for changing my screen color after the sun goes down), Delibar (my lifeline to Pinboard), Dropzone (my tool belt), TotalFinder (which has replaced Path Finder for me) and ScreenFloat.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm actually quite enamored with my current setup. I love my desk, my current amount of screen space, this keyboard... I wouldn't change much in the physical setup. Who wouldn't ask for more speed and power, though? I'd love to do what I do with no wait and no crashes. Yep, that's my dream.