We’ve been running down the hardware, software, tips and tricks, that keep our blogging wheels spinning. Today, I’m running through my favourite gadgetry, apps, hacks and tricks for making said gadgetry bend to my will.
I don’t really like hardware. My dream is to someday have only screens around my house, with all my processing happening either in the cloud or on a central server/super computer of sorts hidden in a closet someone. Until then, here’s what I’m using.
My main work setup is almost embarrassingly Apple-y. I’ve got a MacBook Air attached to an LED Cinema Display and I type on Apple’s Bluetooth wireless keyboard. I do not have an Apple mouse, though! Instead, I use the same Logitech mouse virtually everyone I know uses.
It’s not all Apple, though. Here are the details.
Desktops & Laptops
- My desktop is headless, running Windows 7. I test Windows apps, move files around, and do various other tasks over a VNC remote connection. This computer is my home’s file server, does all my Usenet-ing, and is essentially the workhorse behind the scenes. I do still have a Hackintosh running in my home, but it’s one I built for my wife, who’s a graphic designer. I based it on tonymac’s CustoMac Pro build.
- My laptop is a MacBook Air — the same one as last year. It’s not the most recent iteration, but the one that came out right before they brought backlighting back to the keyboard. My keys do not light up. It’s a great, fast little machine. The screen’s resolution is high enough that it’s a decent multi-tasker, though if I want to really get work done I connect it to my 27-inch Cinema Display.
- My home theatre PC is still this long-since out-of-stock Acer AspireRevo, which runs XBMC like a champ. If I were looking to build a solid media centre on-the-cheap today, I’d probably start with the Apple TV and install XBMC. If you asked me the same question in a few months, I’ll hopefully be recommending the Raspberry Pi, an almost-launched $US35 Linux-based PC. I’m keeping a close eye on this one and will be testing it out as soon as I can get my hands on the hardware. An intrepid young developer is already working on a badass port of XBMC called Raspbmc designed to support extended features like AirPlay. Fingers crossed.
Phones, Tablets and Other Mobile Devices
Let’s talk mobility!
- My phone: Last year I gave Android the old college try and was extremely disappointed. It wasn’t all Google’s fault: I chose my hardware very poorly. I still have a laundry list of complaints about the Android OS that I’d love to see Google address, but until they do, I’m really happy with my iPhone 4S.
- My tablet: As it turns out, I’m not that much of a tablet person. At least now in terms of how I currently do most of my work. I’ve got an iPad and a Galaxy Tab. The iPad is better, and my wife reads like a maniac on it.
My mouse is a member of the Logitech MX series, my keyboard is the Bluetooth version of the Apple keyboard (I have a strong preference for the low profile of Apple’s keyboards), and my monitor is a 27″ LED Cinema Display I bought off Craigslist. Apple’s displays are expensive, but they’re beautiful in terms of both design and display. I spend virtually all my time staring at this screen, so I don’t mind paying a little more for it than I probably should.
Oh, and I still carry it all in this Incase bag, which remains the slimmest, loveliest laptop backpack I’ve ever found. (Update: Looks like the bag I own is no longer being sold; I’ve updated the link with the new version that appears to be closest to my own.)
Software is so much cooler than hardware! Who’s with me?!
Web Browser, Extensions and Web Apps
I’m still rocking Chrome as my default browser. It’s still the right combination of speed and good looks that convinced me to switch from Firefox in the first place. Still, I’ll always have this dark-horse love for Firefox, and I’d kill to see Firefox fight back successfully. I keep an absurd number of tabs open on a daily basis, and Chrome’s started choking more regularly than I’d like. Help me, Firefox!
I’ve trimmed my extensions to the bare minimum, but here are the extensions I’ve consistently kept installed:
- LastPass is my beloved password manager of choice. I happily pay for a premium account to this service.
- SABconnect++ gives me remote access to my Usenet downloads no matter where I am.
- Music Plus for Google Music is an extension I developed to make Google Music more awesome, and it’s currently got over 40,000 users. If I ever get some spare time I’ve got a few feature requests I’d like to take care of, but in the meantime, I’m accepting pull requests!
I live and work on the web, so I’m using different sites and services all day long. These are the ones I rely on most:
- Gmail remains my email client of choice. I’m always toying with the idea of using Sparrow on my desktop, but I’m weirdly attached to Gmail’s web interface.
- Google Reader is still my go-to RSS reader. Prettier desktop options like Reeder are tempting, but Google Reader is fast and effective, and its keyboard shortcuts are embedded in my muscle memory.
- I’m still using Simplenote as my holy grail of ubiquitous plain-text capture, though sometimes I think I should switch to keeping my plain-text notes in sync using Dropbox. Simplenote is a great product, though, so for now I’m sticking with them.
- I’m this close to paying for a SaneBox account. It’s an email service that’s sort of like a working version of Google’s Priority Inbox. It works really well, and my free trial just ended, so I just need to decide if what it does is worth paying for another subscription service.
My favourite desktop apps of the moment:
- Adium is still my favourite multi-protocol chat app.
- I’m in an endless battle deciding between Rdio and Spotify for my music. It’s like the iPhone vs. Android of streaming music. Neither is perfect, and it’s incredibly frustrating when one does something well that the other does terribly. Unfortunately neither is complete.
- I’ve started using a trial of Sublime Text for programming (instead of TextMate), and so far I think it might be worth a switch. It’s lightning fast, has a handful of surprising features I never knew I wanted, and is available on Windows, OS X, and Linux. A licence is $US59.
- Simplenote keeps my notes in sync, but Notational Velocity is the desktop note-taking app that dreams are made of. It’s fast, syncs with Simplenote, and satisfies a keyboard-shortcut lover like myself.
I’m not going to list every mobile app I use, since most probably won’t be all that surprising. Instead I’ll focus on the ones I’m most in love with.
- Slice is technically a service (they automatically analyse emails regarding your online purchases and organizes them all in one place), but their (currently iPhone only) app is what makes the service. You can track any shipment, get notified of changes to the shipment status, and get a birds-eye view of what you’ve been spending. I love it.
- If there’s one app I miss most from Android, it’s Google Maps Navigation. When you switch to iPhone, you have to find a GPS app, and in my opinion, none are as good. But, all things considered, I’ve been very happy with Waze, which is completely free. (Though I’d pay for a version of Waze with the majority of its social features stripped.)
- Instagram. It was hard to understand what iPhone users liked so much about Instagram before I switched back to the iPhone, but I love taking and sharing pictures with this app. I use it more than Facebook. It’s wonderful.
- myNZB is a barebones app for managing Usenet downloads. It doesn’t do anything unexpected or clever, but it works very well.
- I’m literally excited every day for the single cup of coffee I brew for myself each morning. Brew is the iPhone app I use to indulge my geeky coffee habit.
Last, if you use Google Voice and are willing to jailbreak your iPhone, the Phone GV Extension and SMS GV Extension integrate Google Voice with your iPhone’s native SMS and dialer apps. It’s a beautiful thing. See Adam Dachis’ guide to improving your Google Voice experience on the iPhone for more details.
Tips & Tricks Closest To My Heart
Like Whitson said, it’s hard to remember all your favourite tricks because as soon as you start doing something regularly, you forget about it as something “special”. But here are some of recent favourites that are still near the front of my brain:
- To Make Perfectly Cooked Steak, Sear It When Frozen Then Cook It in the Oven: As coincidence would have it, my parents sent a cooler of Omaha Steaks to my house about the time this post went up. They were top sirloin and not t-bone, but this method still resulted in some of the best steaks served under this roof.
- Use Three Kernels to Perfectly Time Your Stove-Top Popcorn: At the risk of going a little heavy on the food posts, I can’t resist this one. I make popcorn on the stove all the time, and this simple tip made the whole thing so much easier. My dad later told me he used to do this as a kid and never thought of it as a trick. Such are life hacks!
- I’ve developed somewhat of a reputation for loving anything that involves a binder clip, so I should include my most recent favourites.
- First, I use this binder-clip-as-car-mount every time I climb into my car. It works like a charm.
- This binder clip headphone wrapping technique is a winner, though I still swear by the devil-horns technique.