My Setup: An Account of My Hut (Hōjōki 方丈記)

On some websites, people post beautiful pictures of their Mac setup (I haven’t seen many threads for Windows or Android setups). Threads like these can be a great source of inspiration for creating a work environment that best suits you. When I titled this post “an account of my hut,” I had Kamo no Chōmei’s thirteenth-century Japanese classic, “An Account of My Hut” (Hōjōki 方丈記) in mind, because his medieval “Mac” setup has inspired my own approach to work.

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My Office

My “official” office certainly doesn’t look much like a hut (see the photo above). It is in 318 Mears Cottage at Grinnell College. The building was a residence hall for nearly a century from 1888 to 1979, it was closed for a time after that, but was renovated and reopened with offices in 1986. It has retained its homey feel, with a sitting room on the first floor, and it currently houses the English and History departments.
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However, this isn’t exactly “my” office. I am here as a replacement for a faculty member who is on sabbatical leave for one year, so all of the books and other things in the office are perks. Because our research interests (East Asia) overlap, I asked for him to leave everything there, and he kindly obliged. I am thrilled to have a very well-stocked personal library available, and I am looking forward to reading many of the books this year.

My Desk

My spot is a pretty small one here at my desk. From left to right (some stuff has been updated):

  • ScanSnap ix500
  • iPod Shuffle
  • Mac Mini “Core 2 Duo” 2.02011 Mac Mini “Intel Core i5”
  • HP Compaq LA2205wg monitor (connected to the Mac Mini)
  • Google Nexus 7 (first generation)
  • Apple Keyboard (connected to the Mac Mini)
  • Apple Mouse (connected to the Mac Mini)
  • iPad 3 iPad Air

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What do I do with all of this? The college generously supplied the Mac Mini, which I use to display primary and secondary sources while I work on the Macbook Air. The iPad is best (in my experience) in this setup for displaying PDFs that you read in a linear fashion without skipping around much inside; for me, this usually means photographs of archival documents. The Nexus 7 is best for looking at specific passages of text, maybe videos (Coursera and the like), or flashcards. I originally bought it thinking that I would write an app for it (I am still working on the app, but it is likely be a work in progress for quite a while) and, as much as I like it, I think it is a little too small for my regular work. One of the benefits of having multiple screens (the monitor, Macbook Air, Nexus 7, and iPad 3) is that you can have several sources of information displayed at once.

Peripatetic Scholarship

Honestly, though, I often work with just an iPad and an external keyboard. This way, the world is my office (well, anywhere in the world with a table, a chair, and some coffee). It isn’t quite as elegant as Kamo no Chōmei’s description of his hut from the thirteenth century, but I like to think of it as an updated version that is better suited for the digital age.

By using a remote desktop app like LogMein, you can log into your Mac Mini or Macbook Air from anywhere and do work that wouldn’t normally be possible on the iPad like OCR (optical character recognition) for files or searching through your archives. Assuming you have digitized your primary and secondary sources, you won’t miss your bookshelves, and can move about quite freely this way.

You’ll often find me working somewhere in my Mears office, because I have great colleagues, and I enjoy the cozy environment there. I hold my office hours at Spencer Grill, though, and if I am not at either of these places, you’ll probably see me at Saint’s Rest Coffee House on Broad Street. Pull up a chair and join me for a cup of coffee if you have some time!