Essential Software (Updated)

March 13, 2017

First published in 2014, new version here (copy paste then edited since WordPress seems to have lost the original text!

March 2017

I sometimes get involved with helping people help themselves by using good computing tools. Following is a list of tools and products that I heavily rely on and recommend to those with needs that match what these tools do. The key is “need”. Given the need, here’s a list (in “no particular order” and ignoring specialty software used for professional reasons):

Apple Mac hardware. say no more. Accessories: external keyboard (to put wear and tear, including spills, on that instead of the laptop keyboard), wireless mouse, DVD Drive, 27″ Apple monitor (get to as much space as possible).

Scrivener ($). For writing. Outstanding. I wish I didn’t still have to to use Microsoft Word. I have been using word since DOS days in the mid 1980’s. Scrivener is the first thing that has come along which can usurp Word. http://www.literatureandlatte.com. Starting to experiment with Ulysses…

OmniGroup Tools ($). OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle are terrific to tools. Use OmniOutliner to make (write, edit, re-write, re-edit) then export into Scrivener as an OPML file. Use OmniGraffle for making all the diagrams. Store the OmniGraffle source files in the Scrivener Research folder.

Safari and Chrome. For internet browsing. I list both to make the point that you can use both and not fret about picking one or the other. I tend to use Safari.

Feedly. For doing lots of internet reading. http://www.feedly.com This is supplemented by Instapaper and Safari’s Reading list.

Apple Ecosystem. Apple Mail, Contacts, Calendar, iTunes, iPhoto, etc. Just works, especially with iPhone and iPad synchronisation with each other. Supplemented with iCloud and DropBox.

Apple Terminal. There is so much that can be done at the command line which is so much faster, easier, which more importantly can lend itself to automation. There is no reason for anyone to be afraid of it or shun its use. GUI’s are not necessarily the best way to do everything.

BusyCal and BusyContacts ($). I supplement Apple Calendar with BusyCal and OfficeTime (for time logging for client invoicing). BusyContacts, from the same company who produces BusyCal, is most useful because of its ability to show all emails and documents associated with a contact. Both of these “busy” products use the standard Mac OS calendar and contacts databases so nothing is lost by using these other products. I tried Fantastical on IOS, but found it was just too fancy for me.

Microsoft Office ($). Well, can’t get away from it, can you. Use Excel and PowerPoint. Avoid Microsoft Outlook (which some new Mac users gravitate to because they erroneously justify the decision on “I don’t want to lose my email or contacts”). I am migrating away from Word. While I used it since it was released in the 1990’s, I stopped in the 21st Century and never looked back. There are so many better products which facilitate better productivity. That being said, I now have a Microsoft 365 subscription.

ScanSnap Hardware and Software ($). By Fujitsu. I’m getting good at being paperless. ScanSnap products make it happen. I use an S1100 and S1300, but a few years old. I’d probably go with the XI500 if I was buying now and get rid of all the old paper that is still around but that I want to retain.

Hazel ($). Gosh, but a big impact on personal productivity. http://www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php Allows me to setup key automation to help save time, especially with scanning and other “paper-work”.

DropBox. http://www.dropbox.com Relied on for syncing all my devices. http://www.dropbox.com. I avoid DropBox for situations requiring collaboration as there is no secure the file from others editing/changing/deleting. For that also use SugarSync http://www.sugarsynch.com

CrashPlan ($). Offsite backup of all machines (Windows, Mac, and Linux). http://www.crashplan.com And of course use Apple TimeMachine for routine and continuous backup. Have used often to recover past versions of files. Never used for disaster backup, but I’m confident it will work. Looking at ElephantDrive since CrashPlan is abandoning Drobo.

1Password ($). To securely store the hundreds of bits of sensitive information, e.g. passwords, ids, account numbers, scans of identification, etc. https://agilebits.com

Text Expander ($). Boy, does that save me time in routine writing. http://smilesoftware.com/TextExpander/index.html As of today,July 18, 2014, TextExpander tells me that it has saved me 2,063,152 keystrokes and 85.96 years of my life (assuming 80 words/minute typing speed). I can believe it. Update April 2106: the publishers of Text Expander has changed their licensing model to a monthly subscription with the new version having features of no interest to me. Not for me. Like Dr. Drang, I’ll migrate what I have to Keyboard Maestro and in due course un-install Text Expander.

Soulver ($). Terrific calculator. While I do use the HP15 emulated on the iPad, and my “real” one, Soulver is useful.

OmniFocus ($). Absolutely essential. Have used so many ways to keep track of “to-do’s” over the years. The only tools that have stood the test of time were Daytimer 5×7″ notebook system and now OmniFocus. “Things” almost made it into my life, but too simplistic. I also like their OmniGraffle product which I use occasionally for illustrating technical writing. Integration with iPad and iPhone make this the “must-use” product.

DEVONthink ($). http://www.devontechnologies.com A fantastic document management systems. I’m a packrat for interesting documents. I have about five major working databases segregated by business and personal.

Sublime Text 2 ($). For text editing. I like to mess with Python. BBEdit also in use, but tend to use Sublime Text 2.

Jump ($). Helps me while travelling to connect back to my Windows desktop computer at HQ. Used to use the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client, but it was limited to accessing Windows. And it “seems” Jump is faster. I find myself using Jump on the Mac to use the Windows machine that is adjacent. Simpler.

VMWare ($). To run Windows 7 and Linux on the Mac. I used to use Parallels but a recent upgrade bricked a running Ubuntu instance, so was forced to migrate everything to VMWare. Saw no reason to go back.

Apps in heavy use on on iPad include: Drafts (most iPad writing starts here), OmniFocus, 1Password, Calendar/BusyCal, OfficeTime, HP15c Calculator, Soulver, Downcast (Apple’s iTunes didn’t just does not work properly for Podcasts and I never looked back), Kindle, ByWord, iPhoto, Feedly, my Bank’s app, Google Maps, DEVONThink, Terminology.

($) Means purchased software.


Proper Way to View Risks

October 26, 2016

From “25 Myths That are Destroying the Environment”, by Daniel B. Botkin. ISBN 9781442244924

What are the chances it will happen? What will be the effect if it does? What are the chances that we can fix things and prevent damage to begin with? And how much will the equivalent of an insurance policy cost, versus how much it will cost to repair the damage?


Talking about Climate Change and “Fixing it”

March 12, 2016

I was at a conference earlier this week, the topic being power generation. The focus of most speakers (and many of the attendees that I was able to chat with) was about how all these alternative methods of generating electrical power are proposed on the basis of our “reduced carbon [sic] future”.

At the break I asked one of the speakers how life would be different in, say 2030, when we transform everything to a world where we get power from “carbon free” methods? He was unable to say other than to agree with me that he would “feel good.”.

I then explored with him the idea of scrapping the goal of conflating power generation with carbon reduction, and I did get an earful about how the ice caps are melting, that the root cause of the “Arab Spring” could be attributed to “climate change”, and that the flooding and record high temperatures are “proof” and we *must* do something. “All scientists in the world think it’s a problem!”, he said.

This guy had the podium at a major conference on power production, hosted by the power industry, and attended by many so-called “informed” professionals! Sigh. Big Sigh.

Another person, a person who was previously a speaker on a topic of importance, was defending to me the grave need to “tackle climate change.” I asked him to please define what he meant by “climate change” so that we could then agree what we are talking about. He told me that he could not really define that as it’s much to complicated to define, “but we gotta tackle it!”. Sigh.

I seemed to be the only one wondering what the heck is going on?


Changing Email Address the Easy Way

January 26, 2016

Sometimes I’ve found myself getting into a situation where in discussions with colleagues it appears that a great solution to their email “problems” is changing email service problem. The “problem” often is that the person is using the mail server connected to their internet service provider (ISP), e.g. Verizon, BTInternet, or whatever. They notice (or I notice when trying to send them email) about the unreliability of their email account. Sometimes mail just gets lost on the way. Sometimes the ISP mail is blacklisted due to malware reports, e.g. Yahoo.co.uk is notorious for that.

ISP’s are also notorious for not providing proper email service. Mail is not their core business. They don’t care. For example, IMAP was designed in 1986–30 years ago, yet it was only relatively recently that BTInternet offered this to their customers. IMAP, compared to deficient protocol POP, allows email clients like Outlook, Apple Mail, etc. work like people expect them to work. Yet sometimes they cannot or will not use it for reasons unknown to me (other than like with BTInternet, just not available). I’ve seen people hesitate or be nervous to use IMAP and then I hear their complaints about how the mail on their iPhone is different than on their PC. Yeah, that’s the cost of not using IMAP.

Worse, when someone uses email service and email domain address “hooked” to their ISP it means when they their ISP (because of poor service or they moved residence/business to another area), their email address is no longer going to be of any use to them.

The Better Way

A better approach is to use a great quality email service and a service where it is likely you’ll never have to changed your email domain.

Some options:

  • Get your own domain. That email address(es) and domain are yours to keep for as long as you keep the internet domain active. Registration of an internet domain is low cost, e.g. from Hover.
  • If your email is to be used for business purposes, absolutely use a domain for the business becuase to use any other email domain address, especially with a retail ISP, e.g. “@btinternet.com”, makes the business look amateurish.
  • Get an email service from a quality vendor, e.g. FastMail. Their costs are very reasonable, has great support, and many ways to set things up–with your own domain, or use one of their many domains. Quality of service is essential, especially for business use of email.
  • Use something like Google, Apple iCloud, Microsoft 365, or similar. Free and great quality (for now) service.

All the quality email service providers will use IMAP (Google’s is reported to be slightly difference, but you’ll not notice) which you would use to setup access on your PC, smart phone, and tablet. IMAP keeps all the mail in sync. They also will provide a web site interface which requires only a login via your browser using any device. Some even have dedicated “apps” for portable devices which bypasses the native mail applications you might have. Due to extra complexity I don’t recommend using dedicated “apps”, but if that floats your boat go with it.

Going about Changing Email Address

Set up your email client, e.g. Outlook, with the new account. Keep the old accounts in your email client for as long as you want. Continue to monitor them.

Be polite and send everyone who is important to you a simple email to tell them you have changed your email address. Send out this email to everyone using BCC and to “TO” so that you are not broadcasting everyone’s private email address to everyone else.

For the accounts that you already setup on your email client, change the “reply-to” field in the client configuration for all those accounts to the new email address. That way when people send you mail to your old account, when you reply, the “reply-to” field in the mail your friend receive will be the one that you want them to use. If they reply, it will go to the new address.

Some of these people will update their contact lists. Some won’t both. This isn’t a problem, as many people don’t bother looking up emails and simply “reply” to the last email. Some look for an old email and copy/paste that email into the new email. As they will find your “new” email address first, or if they hit the “reply” button, they will send to the correct email address.

And, since you are not going to stop monitoring (until you have to) the “old” addresses, you will not lose email even if sent to the “wrong” email address.

Log in to any internet services where you have registered email address and change to the new account. While you are at it, use 1Password (or similar, and if not done already) to develop an inventory of internet sites and their login ID and password. Use 1Password’s feature to create complex passwords as way to enhance your internet security.

Job done.


Flooding in York

December 29, 2015

This was a man-made disaster. It was not “unforeseen” as it’s happened before–more than once, in fact. The cause has nothing to do with “climate change” (whatever that means!).

In this instance, the UK Environmental Agency in York noticed that “water was entering the building” (the building holding pumps which were to operate to mitigate the effects of fooding), and they decided that this electrical equipment was “at risk”. So, they lifted a flood barrier thus deliberately flooding a large residential area.

See Martin Brumby discuss this story, as an insider, at http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2015/12/27/the-eus-role-in-the-floods.html#comments, Dec 29 9:23 a.m. where he asks the pertinent questions:

So, were the pumps working and, if not, why not?

Were the electrics maintained and sited above flood levels? (Think:- Fukushima!) If not, why not?

Who made the decision to open the barrier and make the £8M (1982 prices) installation an irrelevance? Who was consulted?

How many of those responsible will be sacked?


NY Times a Hypocrite

December 13, 2015

In the front page of today’s NY Times web site, I see links to the following two articles next to each other.

One implies doing something “green” will “keep the sea from rising” and the other applauds winter skiing and all that goes with it (mountains deforestation, outdoor heating, long-distance travel by air and car, etc.) which I can’t help but think, if you believe such things, could cause the seas to rise.

Jeez.

Screen Shot 2015 12 13 at 08 02 53


New Discoveries about our Planet using Modeling, Eyes, and Brains

December 3, 2015

Today’s New York Times has a fascinating article “Searchers Refine Possible Path of Lost Malaysian Flight 370“.

Investigators have refined the possible flight path of a missing Malaysia Airlines jet using a set of probability tools that they say takes them closer to locating the jetliner in the southern Indian Ocean.

The was struck by the more-detailed explanation what they did:

The report recalculated Inmarsat satellite communications data, aircraft dynamics, wind, air and atmospheric temperature, along with a re-examination of fuel consumption and engine efficiencies to map possible flight paths and then test their validity.

The are reported to be using conventional computer modelling technology along with doing even more detailed assumptions of the modelling parameters and incorporating a probabilistic view. All good stuff. Someday they will find the plane and they will then be able to validate these models. In the meantime, this technology is their best view of what “might have happened”. I applaud their efforts.

The search is also having an unintended benefit of providing new insights, data, and mapping about a part of our planet where humans have never really yet looked. In the areas where they are searching the seabed is reported to be almost four miles deep. They are making discoveries:

The seabed, which has been mapped for the first time, is marked by volcanoes, plateaus and ridges, all of which have made the underwater search using towed sonar devices and an autonomous underwater vehicle extremely difficult.

Next step: How might these newly found volcanoes (they don’t say how many, but my hunch is they have discovered many), affecting the ocean chemistry and temperature?