Mac Setup: The Workstation of an Expat Theatrical Producer

Feb 8, 2015 - 15 Comments

Mac Setup of a Theatrical Producer expat

This week we’re featuring the great Apple setup of Theatrical Producer Toby S., who humorously shares some of the challenges faced by expats while working and living abroad in a nation filled with counterfeit gadgets and fake everything. But the Macs are all real, so let’s dive right in an learn a bit more in this amusing overview:

Tell us a bit about what you do, and how this setup came to be

Don’t kill me…  I was a manager at Microsoft in the early 1990’s. …rolling on 25 years….  and having spent 25 years as a theatrical producer (Broadway, West End and throughout Asia), I switched to Apple in entirety a couple of years ago, fed up with continuous updates, virus’s, driver issues and a general feeling of always fighting to keep PC’s networked and working together.   Started with a couple of MacBooks plus iPhone and iPad, and fell in love with Apple simplicity integrated hardware/software.

Since then, I created a 100% Apple solution that allows me to base myself remotely in Shanghai, China, (I travel a LOT), but stay in close touch with US and London and Australia via Internet with a flashed router with 24/7 VPN (to bypass/leap over the Great Firewall of China), and various Mac solutions to run my office and household.

Seems a little Apple overkill, so let me explain that living in China without access to English versions of nearly anything, and most everything fake, I tend to purchase Apple stuff overseas and bring it back to Shanghai, stocking up on replacement equipment.

What hardware makes up your Apple setup?

My home office in Shanghai consists primarily of the following:

Primary hardware

  • iMac 27” (late 2012 – fully loaded) 
      – my primary computer for email, budgeting and show concept planning
  • Macbook Pro Retina 13” (2014 – fully loaded)
      – my portable computer, for travel and business meetings.  Basically using DropBox to share all current files
  • Macbook Pro 13” (2011 – fully loaded) 
      – my Chinese based media server (cannot get any english TV, or movies, so using Apple Remote Disc for DVD’s, iTunes music collection and AppleTV streaming through my home
  • Apple TV (5 in total – living room, 2 bedrooms, home office & a travel one for hotels)
      – For loud English movies and TV to annoy our Chinese neighbors, and for me to dream of clear air, blue skies, tasty food and english
  • iPhones, iPads etc… (all latest iPhone 6+, 6 or 5S, iPad/iPad Mini for global, domestic China and travel use)
      – For ultra synced portability of my Evernote, dropbox, wechat, key video/music files and occasionally a phone call

Accessory hardware

  • WD MyCloud EX4 12TB NAS
      – cloud based storage of about 2tb of key reference files, the rest as Time Machine for the network.
  • TerraMaster F4 8tb USB external drive
      – Fast Time Machine backup of my iMac and DropBox.
  • WD MyBook 4tb USB external drives (3 in total – 2 in use, I spare for emergency)
      – One for my music collection (over 5,000 CD’s digitized).  The other for film clips – Broadway/West End musicals mainly.
  • WD MyBook Thunderbolt Duo 8th external drives
      – For my DVD collection – TV shows and Movies.
  • Canon CanoScan LIDE
      – Mainly for scanning Chinese contracts and OCR to read the hilarious translation and ridiculous clauses.
  • HP Color LaserJet CP1518ni
      – Mainly for printing English and Chinese contracts that will be later ignored by Chinese business partners.
  • iHome AirPlay Speaker
      – For showtunes blaring in Shanghai to annoy everyone around me, and give me the feeling of NYC.
  • ASUS RT-AC68U Router flashed with Astrill VPN
      – The only non-Mac, yet most important device to allow us to jump the Great Firewall of China, but we used a foreign IT specialist to flash the ROM using an english ROM with built in Astrill VPN in order to access foreign services (such as google, youtube, Facebook etc..)
  • Apple Airport Extreme (2 of them)
      – To bring normality of a good network to our home, and home office, with all the back to mac features and ease of management.
  • Apple Airport Express (4 of them)
      – To extend the WiFi to hard to reach corners of the Chinese building with 18” concrete walls (built to withstand Japanese air raid presumably), and to travel with us to hotels.
  • Chinese UPS 
      – to provide about 45 minutes of batter power for all devices in my office when Chinese building power stops (frequently)

(Click to enlarge the detailed overlay view of the Mac setup)

Detailed overlay of hardware in Theatrical Producer Mac desk setup

What apps and software do you use most often? Anything you can’t do without?

All computers are loaded with English versions of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop,  Adobe Illustrator,  Adobe Premier, iTunes, Aperture along with WeChat Desktop, and Evernote.  

Evernote syncs between all devices and computers seamlessly and lists all taxi address in Chinese for all places any of us want to go to in most cities in China — a lifesaver for dealing with generally almost blind Chinese taxi drivers — showing them my iPhone with a bright Chinese address usually gets me where I want to go.   WeChat is used as my primary communications tool, messaging, moments, VOIP globally, video, photo sharing and file sending etc….

Do you have any advice you’d like to share?

Recommendation for those lovers of IT considering a move to China….   Don’t.  It’s expensive and a daily challenge to work around, along with abhorrently slow everything….

  • Biggest IT peeve… a couple of years ago I was trying to setup online banking with my local (major) Chinese bank – I found out in order to do so, I needed to ONLY use a FAKE Chinese version of Windows XP, along with a Chinese PC, and interface only in Chinese.
  • Second biggest IT peeve… super slow internet (I have a 50mb Fibre Optic line into the home, but real download speed is closer to 7mb, upload around 3mb.  this coupled with blocking/banning of nearly everything foreign — everything google, gmail, youtube, Facebook,,, etc.. etc.. etc…
  • Third biggest IT challenge… not succumbing to the fake markets, fake software, fake hardware etc…  the devices are super cheap, look authentic — even with fabulous anti-IP holograms, but who knows what happening beneath the surface.

With my current setup, I sometimes feel like I’m anywhere but in mainland China.  For me, its a place of solitude and productivity. 

It’s your turn! Do you have an interesting Apple workstation or Mac setup you want to share with OSXDaily? Then take a few high quality pictures, answer some questions about your setup and how you use the gear, and send it on in! You can go here to get started, and if you’re not quite ready to share your workstation yet, you can browse through previously featured Mac setups here, there are many great desks out there!


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Posted by: OSXDaily in Mac Setups


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  1. Toren says:

    Where do you guys take all that money from? You must be rich!

  2. PaulW says:

    Very nice set up, and great story. I’m in China too, and understand our daily struggle with about everything. Especially our constant struggle with internet and vpn. I guess I loose about 40-50% of my productivity waiting for webscreens to load, emails to go out or in, contstant switching vpn servers because speed drops to 24 bytes. It’s becoming more and more hopeless, and the talk in every pub I go to : how was your internet today…. Yeah, it’s going great here.
    Interested in that Asus router though. But I’m afraid, will not be long they block those things too.

  3. StevieP says:

    Hi Toby. Great set-up, thanks for sharing. Question: With all your external HDs, are any plugged directly into your Mac’s? Or the router or Airports? Or are they wireless? Just wondering how you have them configured to allow access to your libraries. Thanks.

    • Toby Simkin says:

      Hi StevieP:

      The MyCloud 12TB NAS (directly on network) has 2tb allocated for anywhere n the world cloud access (much like a private dropbox).

      All the others are connected directly to a mac, and mounted as volumes, and shared network wide accordingly.

      Nothing plugged into router or airport extremes.

      My Media drives are mounted as volumes on the Macbook Media Server, and is used to populate iTunes shared library (but set to not copy to local drive, and do not keep organized in the iTunes method) — this way, I control the directory structures, and it makes backing up easy.

      From iTunes on the Media Server as a shared library in the network, I let the Apple TV’s do the rest. Actually, it’s the best setup I’ve ever had for my huge media library.

      Hope this helps.

  4. I love it when someone uses more than one Mac on their desk. I do that all the time :) Why not?

    • Douglas says:

      Me too, I have three Macs on my desk, the desktop and MacBook Air, though only two get regular usage. The iPad kind of collects dust now that I have the Grande iPhone Mucho Jumbo Plus Edition Huge Model but that’s OK with me, I love that Huge iPhone.

      I like these setup posts they are fun to read, and Toby is a good writer with some great humor mixed in there, made it extra enjoyable.

      Great setup, thanks for sharing.

  5. Xin says:

    What VPN service are you using? I’m interested in that.

  6. James says:

    Nice setup. Where did you get that glass desk? I’ve been looking for something similar.

    • Toby Simkin says:

      hi James: Actually, it’s a custom made desk, with built in power cages on the underside (for hidden cable management) — so glass was not an option — it’s highly reflective black mylar (although I had asked the carpenter in Shanghai for flat black laminate — you learn to get what’s available here)

  7. Chinese Govt says:

    We know who you are (your name is on the screens and with Google Translate to Chinese), we are coming to get you.

    Shouldn’t 100% Apple include iWork suite and not Microsoft?

    Just kidding, you have a great setup.

    • Toby Simkin says:

      Haha…. good thing google translate is blocked! I have iWork Suite, however, everyone I work with overseas seems to only use MS office, so for ease of file sharing, I stayed consistent.

      Thanks for the note!

  8. Michael says:

    Really great setup, thanks for sharing. Enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek descriptions too, very broadway.

    I spent about a week in Shanghai some years ago, still remember walking around The Bund, the city I think was the busiest place I’ve ever been in this world. The internet was restricting access to some of the most mundane websites like Gmail, I found it more filtered there than Beijing by far, I never figured out why that was given both are truly global metropolis. The counterfeit markets were abundant and often genuinely impressive in the quality and scope of fakes, everything under the sun was there, if you can think of it, someone made a knock-off version of it and sold it at a tiny fraction of the original, quality as you can expect was, well, often dubious, sometimes surprisingly good, no shortage of fake iPhones running Android with skins that look a lot like iOS, some of them I swear were the same build quality as the real thing, just with Android, then some were total junkers too. And the interest in real Apple hardware is so high there, the value of real Macs and real iPhones was super inflated and overpriced, almost like they were luxury goods or a status symbol, which is quite interesting when compared to the contract-subsidized $179 at Walmart everyone-has-one thing we have in the USA.

    Anyway, enjoyed the read, I really love these desk posts.

    • Toby Simkin says:

      Thanks Michael: I hear you on the temptation for these ultra cheap, and sometimes ultra cool locally made tech wonders. But I found that while they make great toys for a couple of days, they cannot be relied on. Yes, each city/region, and ISP in China has different levels of blocking…. some are overly cautious, some less so.

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