What I Use

Sep 2013

(Based on an interview for MakeUseOf)

 

“To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.”

– Abraham Maslow

 

“My brush is not a tool. It is an extension of my arm and thus my soul. I use it to paint my dreams and so too do my dreams become real.”

– Author Unknown but is sometimes attributed to Claude Monet

What software and technology do you depend on, use and work with everyday?

 

I use two laptop computers, a Lenovo Y580 with maxed out specs which is the master computer sitting in my room running Windows 8. It never leaves there. Then I replicate the disk onto separate Lenovo G580s which you can buy for $300 and are throwaway laptops that I take everywhere. The current one is held together with stickytape. I like being able to comfortably throw my computer out a window and not lose anything and means all files are thief-proof. I usually touch type a QWERTY keyboard with one monitor but have stickers to switch to DVORAK and I don’t use a desktop computer.

The whole computer runs on voice recognition using Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 and a Senheisser headset microphone with a voice boosting Andrea USB sound pod. It looks a bit strange but I actually just talk to the computer and it does everything I want. The desktop homepage is a maximum size Sticky Note. It’s a bit bizarre but at boot the only thing you see is a Sticky Note which fits the whole screen. It removes all clutter and there’s always something to write notes onto as I think of them and leave messages to myself since it’s the first and only thing you see when the computer starts. I browse and search files and programs using Launchy or voice and almost never use a mouse but when I do, use a Logitech M100 chorded laser mouse.

 

On the computer I use Fences for desktop organisation, Flux for screen lighting and VLC player for watching video, Picasa for images and Itunes for music. To edit audio use Audacity. For coding, the text editor I really like is Sublime Text or Komodo IDE when an IDE is needed with Filezilla as an FTP client. Virus protection is done with AVG and EasyPHP for a WAMP server.

Important files are backed up with the free tiers of Dropbox and Google Drive. Browsing is done mainly with Chrome but Firefox is installed as a backup, document editing with LibreOffice and drawing and editing images and PDFs is done with the Adobe Suite specifically Reader, Photoshop and Illustrator. I also use paid Skype credits for VOIP and bought a Skype landline number which redirects to my mobile phone.

In Chrome I use paid Laspass and FoxMarks accounts for keeping track of bookmarks and passwords, Chrome Accounts for syncing bookmarks, Awesome Screenshot for taking pictures, WhatFont identifies web fonts, Firebug for code viewing, Colorzilla identifies colours, Fastest Chrome which speeds up web browsing and StayFocusd for website blocking. On sites I use TL;DR for summarising content and Web Developer tools for more control but rarely use it.

 

Every morning I wake up and check Hacker News, Facebook, Gmail then update a Trello board and Google Calendar with what I have to do that day while usually having a Coursera course playing in the background. My hardware is the cheapest Samsung Galaxy touch phone you can get for $100 running Android 2.2 but am about to upgrade that to a Galaxy Young running Android 4.2 which is also $100; an old 4th Generation Ipod Touch which used to be my little sisters, a 3rd Generation Kindle and a 1TB external harddrive.

On the phone I browse using Opera Mobile, use SMS Backup + to archive all contacts, call logs and text messages to Gmail, Google Maps to find my way around, Catch Notes for writing. I also use SleepLikeAnDroid as an alarm clock. It uses the phones accelerometer to monitor sleeping patters to optimize the best time to wake you up based on REM cycles so you are at something which should theoretically be close to peak rested. To kill time use the MyBoy Gameboy Emulator and play Advance Wars, my favourite game on a device.

In transit, before sleeping and while travelling, I listen to audiobooks and Graphic Audios. I actually stopped reading altogether a few years ago and only consume audio content, the feel of a book is now kind of weird. I can’t say enough good things about Graphic Audios, they are just incredible. Switching to audiobooks and fitting them into transit and travel time results in about 50 – 100 books being read each year depending on how much I travel which is way more than when I used to read physical books.

 

Apart from that I have a shared Enterprise Hostgator account which runs Apache servers for testing. They’re upgraded to Nginx for performance when needed and I usually migrate to Rackspace or Digital Ocean when I think the app is actually going to be a big deal. Most apps are either PHP, a hacked together WordPress site or I’m starting to look into Laravel with MySQL databases managed with PHPMyAdmin with caching done by Varnish. My favourite WordPress theme is Thematic which runs on my blog.

For web apps, I really like MixPanel for analytics, Pin Payments or 2Checkout for a cheap and beautiful payment gateway, Google Apps for email, GoDaddy for domains, Prezi for impromptu presentations, Ninite to download and install programs, Woothemes software and Pressable hosting clusters for anything WordPress, BuiltWith for searching tech stacks and Pingdom for testing performance.

That’s everything I use. I completely understand why my parents don’t like technology. In many ways this essay is a snapshot of favourite technologies in use today, like a time capsule. I’m really looking forward to seeing what I’m using 10 years from now.

What frequently happens with new technology is in the transition you slowly forget what you previously used. I remember when I used to use Hotmail for emails but I had to think to remember I even did in the first place. Just 5 years ago I’d never used anything listed above. Indeed most didn’t even exist.

The sad part is I try to subscribe to the whole minimalist work / life balance thing but it seems the older you get and the more responsibility you take on, the more technology gets bolted to your life in dealing with all the information and busyness. I remember a time when just getting an email would be the highlight of my day, now I can’t wait to get through them all.

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