Essential Tools 2011

After reading Justin’s list of his favorite tools for power users and developers, I started to think about some of my own. Of course since Justin has great taste, and we use a lot of the same things, it’s going to make ripping him off directly and playing dumb later much easier[1].

Non-Software

  • 13" MacBook Air
    I was using a late 2008 MacBook Pro, and as soon as the current generation came out I bought one. It immediately became my main development machine. It feels crazy fast, light enough to take places and small enough to open on an airplane. It’s my favorite Mac I’ve had so far.
  • Archival Clothing Flap Musette (Laptop / iPad Bag)
    I don’t care if you call it a man purse[2], I take this thing everywhere. I use it as an iPad or laptop bag and it’s been perfect for that. It’s small and rugged, but big enough to stuff a power cable, Field Notes book, and a copy of the New Yorker in. Plus it’s made locally.
  • Chemex Coffee Maker
    Most developers I know enjoy coffee, and I think if you’re going to do anything you should do it the best you can. The Chemex is my daily driver for coffee making. It’s a pourover type that easily makes enough for two people, is extremely easy to clean and makes great tasting coffee.

Mac Apps

  • OmniFocus for Mac
    I live in OmniFocus, and keep as much of my life in it as I can. The reason I think it works for me where other apps haven’t, is that it doesn’t enforce a specific workflow so much as provide a foundation to create your own. I’m not sure everyone needs that much flexibility, but I choose to use it because I know it’ll scale to whatever my needs are.
  • NetNewsWire
    I’ve gone back and forth with RSS readers this year, but came back to NetNewsWire on the Mac because it shows me what I want to see so I can get through a backlog of feeds quickly.
  • Byword
    A simple and attractive text editor which makes writing in Markdown even easier by being aware of Markdown syntax, and providing key commands for the most common Markdown functions.
  • Marked
    The primary use of Marked is as a Markdown preview app to compliment whatever text editor you’re writing in. It didn’t sound like something I needed, until I started using it. Now I keep it open next to Byword or BBEdit whenever I’m writing anything of length.
  • 1Password for Mac
    Because I let 1Password generate and store all of my passwords, I never worry about password related security on the web. It’s the only app I feel like I need to have set up before I can start using a new Mac.
  • BBEdit
    I use it as a scratchpad for Objective-C, writing longer things in other languages, and for reformatting things like JSON to be more readable using text filters. I also use BBDiff a lot of the time when I have a complex merge of two source files to do.
  • Kaleidoscope
    It turns out that I do have a use for a really good file comparison app that doesn’t do merging (although I’d love to see that feature). It’s my favorite tool for checking what I’ve changed before making a commit.
  • Acorn
    I’ve been using it since 1.0 and it’s still the most Mac-like image editor.
  • GitHub for Mac
    The only Git client I’ve found to have any use for me, because it doesn’t try to replace the command line. Instead it just makes the things that suck the most on the command line easier.
  • Alfred
    I just started using this, after using Launchbar. The script launching and search filters are the two best features for me. I use search filters for things like only searching source code and related files.

iOS Apps

  • OmniFocus for iOS
    Having these apps is a really big part of what makes my whole task management system work. They give me the ability to review and capture tasks wherever I am.
  • Elements
    I use it to make all of the notes I take on my Mac accessible on the go. One cool use for me has been creating a big travel document using Markdown on my Mac that gets synced automatically to Elements. By doing it this way I have the document backed up in at least three (Mac, Dropbox, Elements) places, so it’s unlikely I’ll end up stranded.
  • 1Password for iOS
    Another great Mac app that would be useless to me without a mobile companion that works.

Services

  • Squarespace
    I host my company site, and this blog on Squarespace. I haven’t run into any show stopping drawbacks, and they make hosting a nice looking site really easy. It costs a little more than some other options, but I don’t worry about reliability and have to do a lot less tweaking to get things acceptable.
  • Dropbox
    Anything that I don’t want to lose goes in Dropbox. It also makes getting things done on the iPad feasable for me.
  • TestFlight
    Managing a beta for an iOS app before TestFlight was a nightmare. Now it’s easy.
  • Instapaper
    Using Instapaper lets me manage my time attention better than I could without it. I’m able to read a lot more longform articles than I was before by scheduling time for it.

  1. That was a joke.  ↩

  2. That’s a lie, I get crazy touchy about it.  ↩

Brewing Coffee With Zero Electricity

Marco Arment had a post earlier about making coffee when your house’s electricity is out. I wholeheartedly agree with his instructions for what a normal person should do in this situation (drive to to the nearest Starbucks and enjoy).

The other set of instructions were for what an “impatient, geeky, coffee snob” should do:

  1. Light the gas stove with a match.
  2. Boil water in the Helvetica Kettle.
  3. Plug the coffee grinder into the APC UPS that still has some power left, turn it on, grind the coffee, then turn it off to conserve its power.
  4. Realize you had the wrong grind size, dump those grounds, fix the grind setting, turn the UPS on again, and grind the coffee properly.
  5. Brew with AeroPress.

That’s fine for a normal coffee snob, but what if you’re a real asshole with more coffee equipment than sense? I’ve added my own instructions for just this use case:

  1. See Marco’s instructions.
  2. Boil water in your Hario Coffee Drip Kettle
  3. Get a work out while grinding coffee using your hand grinder. This implies you’ve considered the possibility of needing to grind coffee if the power goes out, and bought one of these for emergencies. But that’s just common sense.
  4. Brew coffee with Chemex.

GTD Wagons and Dirty Dishes

Part of using GTD is falling off the wagon. Everyone gets overwhelmed and lets their system linger a bit sometimes. If you keep up on some of the regular maintenance though, it’ll happen less often and when it does getting back on won’t be so hard. Just like a sink of dirty dishes tends to stay full, too many inbox items, or stalled projects, and you don’t even want to look at it. Unfortunately, just like the dishes it only gets worse if you ignore it.

As soon as you start letting items sit for days or weeks in your inbox, you’re doing more harm than good. By capturing items into a system you’re letting rot, you might trick yourself into thinking you’re staying on top of things when you’re really just letting them fester in inbox purgatory. It’s like if you let the dishes sit until they molded. You already know the solution, and you’ve probably even made attempts to do in the past: process everyday.

I have a potentially unnatural love of coffee, and I never forget to make it, regardless of what’s going on. Processing my inbox, however, happens all the time. Force yourself to turn processing your inbox is as much a habit as morning coffee, and there’s no way for it to get out of hand so much you’re scared to look at it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but I think with work it can become easy.

The other time I get panic attacks when opening OmniFocus is when I’ve got stalled projects. Your GTD system is an evolving one, and it needs constant care and feeding. Letting projects sit with no path or intention for completion adds a lot of friction when looking for something to do. Reviewing your projects often (OmniFocus for iPad is great for this), getting rid of dead projects and redefining ones that are important to you is important for friction-free productivity, and I think one of the things people neglect doing the most.

Sometimes figuring out why a project has stalled can be pretty hard. There’s probably a lot of things I think I’d like to do that realistically I either don’t care enough about, or don’t have the time for. I think it takes honesty with yourself, practice to recognize what you will and won’t do, and ruthlessness to kill anything that’s just cluttering things up. I think deconstructing projects with no action steps to the point where you can work on it also takes a lot of progress. And – like most things worth doing – I think it takes doing it a lot to master.

The one thing your system needs to be is trustworthy. It’s okay to fall off the wagon, but you need to do your part to try and hold on if you’re going to build trust.

Hope You Got a Good One

The Verge:

Samsung has just distributed the worst news of this Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade cycle: the popular Galaxy S smartphone that sold 10 million units last year and the 7-inch Galaxy Tab tablet won’t be upgraded to Android 4.0.

The Galaxy S is a premier Android device that was released less than a year and a half ago, is still on sale and won’t even get an upgrade to the next major OS release because of the “experience enhancing” crapware that Samsung installs on their devices. This reminds me of the post that went around that detailed the terrible track record of Android upgrades.

One of the reasons I prefer iOS – and Apple products in general – is because Apple is the only device maker who doesn’t consider their relationship with you to be over once they have your money. I see no evidence from carriers, or from Android device makers to contradict that, and plenty that supports it.

I tell people who ask me about buying an Android device that if they do, they better hope the OS version they got was a good one because they’re probably never going to see another. I don’t know if Android is winning, but I’m certain that the people who buy these things are not.

Kindle Fire First Impressions

I finally got to put my hands on a Kindle Fire today. I only used it in a store for a few minutes, but my immediate impression was that it wasn’t as awful as I’d expected, but that I couldn’t imagine buying one to use.

Immediate takeaways:

  • I’ve seen 7″ tablets before, but it still seems crazy small. Why is the tendency in the non-iOS world towards huge phones and tiny tablets? Is this something consumers want or is it something they’re being given?
  • It took 2-4 touches for most things on the home screen to register correctly.
  • The carousel is a terrible UI metaphor for finding anything. I can’t imagine it being the main way I interact with the device and not being frustrated.
  • It would be better to have not shipped magazine reading as a feature than to have it the way it is.
  • Miscellaneous visual glitches were frequent.

I also noticed some positive things:

  • It seemed totally acceptable for playing the preloaded games. Cut The Rope seemed about the same as on iOS.
  • Although tapping on the home screen was pretty non-responsive, swiping around the carousel was OK lagginess-wise. Better than I expected for sure.
  • From a purely visual standpoint, the software and the device both weren’t as ugly as other Android based things I’ve tried. That has nothing, however, to do with actually using it.

Justin William’s Developer and Power User Tool List

Justin Williams:

This is the third installment of my must have must have list of tools and utilities as a Mac and iOS developer. A lot can change in twelve months when you work in the technology space. The biggest change for developers in the past twelve months is the completed transition from Xcode 3 to 4 and from iOS 4 to 5. Oh, there may have been a new version of Mac OS X thrown in there for good measure too.

Great list. I own and use almost all of the apps that Justin mentions.

RSS Folders Followup

I posted a couple of weeks ago about getting rid of my somewhat arbitrary RSS folder setup in favor of using no folders at all. As it turns out – for my needs – using no folders vs. organizing everything has made no difference all. I’m not missing anything I was getting to before, or annoyed by any difference in the order I read things in.

It makes me wonder what other systems I may have built up for myself that are really just me creating arbitrary labels instead of providing value. GTD contexts seem like low hanging fruit to look at next. For example, I’m starting to doubt the wisdom of dividing to-do items into categories like what app I’d be using, and tying them a bit more closely to physical opportunities and limitations.