Apps & Tools I Use, September 2014 Edition

I bought myself a new MacBook Air a few weeks back. In getting it setup and configured the way I like it, I realized that my use of apps and tools has evolved enough since I last reported on them to warrant an updated post. I’ve broken the apps and tools into several major categories:

  • Core applications
  • Writing
  • Security and data protection
  • Productivity
  • Coding and development
  • Multimedia

One quick note: It’s my practice to pay for the services (or the premium versions thereof) when I like them and find myself using them frequently. That is true of each of the applications listed below. Many of these apps do have free versions, but I opt to use the premium version for two reasons: (1) more features, and (2) paying for the services encourages future development.

Core applications

The core applications that I use haven’t changed much. These are the apps that are almost always open on my desktop or laptop, and in which I spend a great deal of my time.

Google Chrome

I’ve been using Chrome since the time it was released, and I like it better than any other browser I’ve used, although since getting my MacBook Air, I’ve become somewhat sensitive to its excessive power consumption. That said, I still like it and it serves me well. I have the following apps pinned as tabs on all instances of my browser as these are the ones I use most frequently:

  • Gmail: where I do all of my email. I have used a lot of email products over the years and have yet to find one that is more reliable, and works better for me than Gmail.
  • Sunrise: I’ve used their calendaring app on my iPhone for quite a while, and now I have replaced the default Google Calendar app with this app in my browser. It can read all of my Google Calendars, but other important calendars like my Evernote reminders, and GitHub, so that I have all of my calendar-related information in one place.
  • Twitter: I’ve always used the basic Twitter web interface for keeping an eye on my Twitter feed, and replying to Tweets. For sending new tweets, however, I use…
  • Buffer: I’ve been using Buffer to schedule tweets, Facebook, and other social media updates throughout the day, and at this point, I’ve lost track of how much time Buffer has saved me. It allows me to appear far more productive because it can make it look like I’m tweeting, while I’m really working on a story or sitting in a meeting or writing code, or spending a quiet weekend with the family.
  • Any.do (NEW!): Recently, things got so busy at work that I needed a simple system to help deal with a flood of incoming requests. I don’t think of this as a to-do management system, this is more like fire-fighting, and a way of keeping track of the fires that need to be put out. So far Any.do is working pretty well for me in this respect, and is very close to what I was envisioning what I needed.

Evernote

Evernote is always open and always there for me to run a quick search, or add a note. I use it constantly throughout the day.

Skitch

Skitch is by far my favorite app for capturing screenshots, annotating them, and then posting them, or emailing them. I haven’t found anything better and there are some features–especially on the Mac version, like the timed screenshot–that I absolutely love.

Writing

Nothing has changed when it comes to the apps I use for writing.

Google Docs

I use Google Docs for all of my fiction/nonfiction writing, as well as any guest posts I write for other blogs. I’ve been using Google Docs regularly for more than a year and half and it has never given me any trouble. Indeed, even when my laptop battery has exhausted, or Chrome has quit on me, Google Docs hasn’t lost of word of what I’ve written in all that time.

WordPress

I’ve always used the basic editor that comes as part of the self-installed WordPress application to write my blog posts. I’m using it for this one right now. It’s never given me any significant trouble.

Security and data protection

LastPass

I’ve used LassPass for over a year now to manage all of my passwords, to make sure that they are all complex passwords, and to make sure that they are all unique. While it was a little cumbersome to setup the first time, it has saved me hours of time over the year, while also making my accounts far more secure.

CrashPlan

I’ve been using CrashPlan to backup all of our computers to the cloud for several years now. It just works in the background without my needing to take any action beyond the initial setup. And on the few occasions I’ve needed to restore files, it has worked flawlessly.

VaultPress

I use VaultPress to perform live backups of this site, both the files and the underlying database. VaultPress ensures that the site is backed up after every changes, whether that is a post I made, a comment made by someone else, an update to the software, or a change in a plug-in.

Productivity

TextExpander

I’ve been using TextExpander more and more to speed up routine keyboard work, and to supplement my memory. For instance, I can never remember my home phone number. Whenever I need to send it to someone, I’d need to spend a minute or two looking it up. Now I have an expansion where I can type a short phrase that’s easy to remember (like “homephone”) and it expands into that number.

I do a lot more with TextExpander. Enough to where it probably warrants its own post, when I find the time to get around to it.

Keyboard Maestro

I use Keyboard Maestro to automate stuff that I find myself doing over and over again on the Mac, and to create keyboard macros for that stuff so that, at a keypress, I can do some pretty complex automations that save me time in the long run. For instance, there are some web searches I do fairly regularly in Chrome, and I now have these automated thanks to Keyboard Maestro.

RescueTime

I’ve installed RescueTime on all of my computers and it tracks the applications and documents I use and tells me how productive I am. This information has been invaluable to me, especially in helping me learn what kinds of things are distracting, and helping me establish a productivity baseline to aim for each day, in much the same way someone using a FitBit might aim for a step count.

I also use RescueTime to track how much time I spend writing, and I have scripts that pulls this data via the RescueTime API so that I can use it to see if my writing time is increasing or decreasing, allowing me to better manage the time.

Alfred

I’ve been using Alfred–with the PowerPack–for a while now, and it has really helped me to speed up routine tasks on my Mac. Anything from opening an application to doing a quick calculate has become much faster. I use the quick calculation feature quite frequently while I’m writing science fiction stories. It allows me to do the math I need without popping out of Google Docs, because it does it right there on the screen for me:

Alfred Calc

Terminal

I always have a terminal window open in order to quickly run scripts for perform file operations much faster than by using the GUI to do it.

Timeful (NEW!)

I recently started testing out the Timeful app on my iPhone as an alternative to-do list manager to todo.txt. The main reason is that I was curious about the way timeful works. You add your to-do items, and Timeful syncs with your Google Calendar and finds unscheduled time during the day to take care of the to-do items.

So far, I like it, but I still need to play with it some more in order to get a real sense of how it can help me in the long run.

Coding and development

Sublime Text 2 (NEW!)

For a long time, I’ve been a TextMate user. But last week, I downloaded Sublime Text and began giving it a try. Part of the reason is that it is cross platform. Part of the reason is that is has some amazing plugins for development. But the real reason is the time-saving potential. Between its amazing plug-ins, and VIM mode, there is the potential to real speed up my coding, and thus save more time, and make me look even more efficient at work.

Of course, it means learning VIM keyboard commands, something I’ve never really used. In the short term, this has slowed me down a little, but I am catching on quickly, and there have been some useful videos that have helped speed things along.

This is another app that probably deserves a blog post of its own, once I’ve had a little more time to put it to practical use.

GitHub

In the last year, I have begun doing just about everything in GitHub, as well as making use of existing repos to speed up my own work. I even use an internal version of Git at the day job to speed up development work. I love it, and I’m not sure how I ever managed to live without it this long.

Mathematica

For any data analysis that gets more complex than usual, I turn to Mathematica. I’ve been a Mathematica user for a few years now, entirely self-taught, but I’ve really started to appreciate the Wolfram Language and the possibilities it has beyond just mathematics. I dream of the day when I have time to write an entire baseball simulator completely within the Wolfram Language.

Flow (NEW!)

I recently started using Flow to speed up the process of working with documents hosted on other sites. Flow allows me to make SFTP connections and edit the documents inline. Everything is automated, and the connections can be bookmarked to speed up access. This probably saves me 2-3 minutes of startup time each time I work on a project on a remote server.

Multimedia

Photoshop CC

I started using Photoshop a few months ago. While I’ve used it a few times to try an enhance my own photos, my real reason for using it is to have a pallet in which I can quickly design web interfaces. To that end, I have been watching videos to get to know the application better. I expect that a year from now I’ll have a lot more to report on this.

Lightroom 5

Lightroom has become the default photo manager and editor for locally stored photos. It is easy to use and makes managing photos, and especially photo metadata, very easy. I like it much better than iPhoto, and it is clearly more powerful. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m impressed with what I’ve discovered so far.


That covers the gamut for now. Any specific questions or suggestions, drop them in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Apps & Tools I Use, September 2014 Edition

  1. Hi Jamie,

    I was thinking about getting a Mac Air as well, but reading your list of apps had me now wondering about the pre-installed Apple apps. Like you, I use Google products quite extensive and am now unsure if a Chromebook wouldn’t be a better choice … Would you mind telling me what made you chose the Mac Air (only) in terms of writing? Or was it the overall package? Battery life, hardware, etc.?

    I’m sure you need the Mac for coding, but if you just look at the writing side you could use a Chromebook offline as well. Would you have chosen differently?

    Thank you!

  2. Always interesting to read about the tools that you use. Will checkout TextExpander – looks like a great time saver.
    I recently started using Alfred, but I usually use Chrome’s Dev Tools Console for quick calculations – no need to open any apps, just hit F12 🙂
    /Nora

  3. Do you do anything to backup your Google Docs files and GMail? Since moving most of my stuff to Drive, I’ve been looking at the services from Spanning or Backupify to give me some sleep insurance.

  4. Hi Jamie

    Just wondering why Sublime Text 2 rather than 3…? 3 is technically still in beta, but (personally) I’ve found it much more stable than 2. I use it for most of my coding at work (Windows), as well as on my Macbook at home, and it generally Just Works.

    Also, the development pace is I think slightly quicker than on 2. Which isn’t to say it’s anything approaching rapid. 😉

    http://www.sublimetext.com/3

    Paul

  5. Mostly because it is beta. At as developer myself, I tend to shy away from beta products. But you’re probably right, I should give it a try anyway and see what improvement have been made.

  6. Hi Jamie: First let me say… Your blog is one of my absolute favorite about Evernote and paperless living in general. So, thank you for continuing to write the quality, well thought out articles that are simply packed full of valuable and useful information!

    After reading this post, and a previous post about your paperless cloud, I’m curious about your use of CrashPlan. What exactly do you backup that isn’t already living on cloud storage somewhere (Evernote, Drive, Flickr, etc)? I also use CrashPlan, and love it, but I’ve been contemplating the possibility of moving my digital life completely to the cloud. I’m not a very heavy producer of data, and everything I really care about is less than 120GB total. It seems entirely feasible that I could “live in the cloud” without too much trouble or cost. The big challenge would be the fact that my job requires the use of Windows and Office apps, so some of that data would need to be store locally but could be synced to the cloud and accessible everywhere.

    There’s another ~100GB of archive stuff on an external USB drive that I would like to keep “just in case” but life would not end if it was all gone. 🙂

    After some digital spring cleaning, I think I could get by with a 100GB upgrade to my Google Drive account, and the free Dropbox storage I already have. Unfortunately, a few of my favorite apps are tied into Dropbox (ie. YNAB & todo.txt), but I don’t have nearly enough data to make a 1TB Dropbox account worth spending the money. If they had a paid option for ~250GB or less, I might consider it. In either case, what then would I need CrashPlan for?

    So I just wonder if you’ve ever pondered moving all your data to the cloud and not storing anything locally? I forget where I read it, but somebody said they’d like to be able to throw their laptop out the window of a moving vehicle and not worry for one second that any important data would be lost. Yea, I’d say that about sums it up! LOL

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