Favorite Software Tools
Like most people, I have software tools that I return to again and again. Here are my favorites, the ones that have stood the test of time, along with links where to get them.
I didn’t start out this way, but I am pretty much committed to Apple products and services. Many of these recommendations are available on multiple platforms, but there are some that are only available for Apple devices.
First things first
First and foremost, I have found that 1Password is the simplest way to protect my passwords for safer computing (iPhone, iPad, and also on the Mac and Windows). I’m always surprised when I see people aren’t using a reputable password manager. For me, this one is the best. My passwords are long and complex, different for every site, and for the most part, unknown to me. 1Password works unobtrusively with all my devices.
For personal productivity, I have wholly subscribed to David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy. While a technical tool isn’t needed for GTD, I am exceedingly happy with OmniFocus (iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac), a terrific and reliable tool for managing whatever I’m doing with my time. Along with 1Password, its among the first things I install on new devices.
It’s a Golden Age of content, isn’t it? Whether it’s for entertainment or just to stay informed, there are so many choices for content that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options. Here’s what I like best.
More than any social network, Twitter just works for me. It’s immediate and informative. Like all such outlets, it can be abused, but used right, I find it to be a wonderful resource. Far better, for me anyway, than any other service. To work with Twitter I haven’t found anything better than Tweetbot.
I enjoy magazines, but have fully embraced the online experience thanks to News+ from Apple on my iPad. For a small monthly fee I have access to many dozens of magazines with an experience very near, perhaps even better than, the dead tree alternative.
I feel as though I have tried more than a dozen email programs to help control the ever-rising tide of email correspondence. Nothing, in my view, is better than Mailmate, which is wonderfully supported by its independent developer. A little pricey, and perhaps a little more technical than most users may want, but for me it’s perfect and remarkably configurable.
All the news
Good journalism is worth supporting. I pay to read the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Wall Street Journal every day with their excellent web sites and apps. I follow many others, like CNN, USA Today, BBC News, less regularly with their apps.
When it comes to professional journals, I’m awed at the vast quantities available to us through the Internet. Services like JSTOR put all of this at our fingertips and many can be accessed free-of-charge using credentials offered as a benefit to alumni of major universities. It’s worth checking to see if you’re affiliations make such research tools available to you.
So much to learn, so little time! Beyond the trove of open source courses from the world’s greatest universities, I enjoy the content of The Great Courses (and in particular, their Plus program, which has endless deep dives on so many topics), LinkedIn Learning, Masterclass, and O’Reilly Safari.
Research and Writing
I read a lot and my interests are varied. It’s not uncommon for me to disappear into a rabbit hole of one topic and then emerge with a whole bunch of ideas that I want to capture. For this kind of work, good tools are imperative for quick notes and easy retrieval.
A perfect notebook
I’ve tried so many different tools for keeping track of all I read. There was Evernote and Microsoft OneNote, but nothing has stuck with me better than DEVONthink and its excellent companion app for mobile devices. DEVONthink is not necessarily intuitive, but once it works for you it’s hard to imagine a better option. As a bonus, it’s backed by a responsive and consistently customer-focused development and support team.
For reading and marking up documents, I’ve grown to love MarginNote. For short-form writing, I prefer iA Writer. For bookmarking online I subscribe to Pinboard. For managing myriad feeds of online data I like Feedly, and particularly respect their efforts to build technology that helps me find the needle in the haystack. For everyday journaling, I use DayOne.
I’m a committed user of LaTeX for serious writing. I know that it’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for me.
To jot off a quick letter, I am more likely to fire up Apple Pages rather than the abominable behemoth called Microsoft Word.
Analyzing the numbers
For statistical inquiry I cannot recommend the open-source R language highly enough. Whether your work is basic or advanced, R has so much to offer. Frankly, if you’re still using spreadsheets for analysis you’re missing out on tremendous capabilities, not the least of which is the opportunity for a reproducible workflow. Finally, the end of “How exactly did you come up with these numbers?”
Programming and automation
I’ve yet to run into the coder who has set aside his or her keyboard for good. The fact is, even if you’re not a practicing programmer any longer, you never really set aside a tools-oriented mindset that always asks, “how could I do this boring task faster with a bit of code?”
I have programmed in C and C++, Pascal, Assembler, C#, and even did a little COBOL at one point in my career. This is to say nothing of time spent with scripting languages, domain-specific languages or fun tiny ones like AWK and Lua. These days, my limited coding is primarily in R and Python.
I’m passionate in my belief that everyone should know how do a little automation, whether that’s using app-specific scripting languages, code, or some of the outstanding automation tools available, such as Keyboard Maestro on the macOS platform. There’s no excuse for doing repetitive, error-prone tasks by hand.
Just for fun
Out to the ballpark
Baseball is pretty much an obsession for me. It’s difficult for me to get enough, both in season and out of season. Major League Baseball has done a wonderful job leveraging the latest in technology to bring the games to fans no matter their favorite medium.
Food and drink
I like to eat and drink, but the days are pretty much gone where I would scour the bookstore for the latest cookbook. I still buy a few, but for the most part I rely on the outstanding online food resources available through the New York Times, Bon Appétit, Saveur, Serious Eats, E-Gullet, and too many more to count.
For going out, I’ve all but given up on reviews written ostensibly by other diners. I will, however, use OpenTable for reservations, where its available.
Music of my life
My obsession with music has long, deep roots. I have spent huge portions of my life, particularly my early life, buying music on physical media. My younger self would never have believed that one day I’ve be satisfied—more than satisfied—by essentially renting my music. But that’s case thanks to Spotify, Napster, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Calm Radio, Soundcloud, and more.
At home I am a long and very happy customer of Sonos, which delivers music everywhere, reliably and beautifully.
For the most part, I’m a non-fiction reader, with a big emphasis on history, science, and biography.
I still buy books, still check them out of the library, but I love the convenience of online reading. Online stores from Apple and Amazon have revolutionized how I get quick access to the latest.