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. 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. 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. Allows me to setup key automation to help save time, especially with scanning and other “paper-work”.

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

CrashPlan ($). Offsite backup of all machines (Windows, Mac, and Linux). 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.

Text Expander ($). Boy, does that save me time in routine writing. 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 ($). 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.

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?

WhoWhatWhy is Not as Good as I thought

November 27, 2015

Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading, especially Russ Baker’s books. I considered them insightful, interesting, intriguing, and educational. I learned more about critical thinking by reading those books. Sometimes unbelievable, but I gave him a lot of slack as the cases he presented case seemed solid and logical. It was easy to jump to the conclusion that he had a head on his shoulders that worked.

Recently he posted an article “Expert Panel Flunks Republicans on Climate Science” which was a commentary on the recent AP posting of same. The eight scientists were are “Mann, Dessler, Elsner, McCarthy, Bradtmiller, Vincent, William Easterling at Pennsylvania State University and Matthew Huber at the University of New Hampshire.”

Humm. Illustrious list, I guess. I only know of a couple of the names and I wouldn’t call them particularly credible.

I put in a comment, with the best of all intentions that said “Suggest you do a little more research on this “climate change problem”. Start with all the scandals and posted a working link to the list recently posted at Scottish Sceptic. A little bit of learning would go a long way. They kept the start of the comment, but deleted the link.

That immediately got “News Nag” to say back to me: “Hahaha. Scandals. You WISH. But I guess that’s all you’ve got. That and the bogus consensus denial.”

Gosh. Says nothing. Clearly lacking in education or ability to learn.

Later Russ Baker himself provided a rant which clearly does not share my understanding of the situation (which is why I suggested he do a little more research). To that rant I replied that he “Get Prof Judith Curry of Georgia Tech on the phone and discuss. Use in your podcast. Perhaps also consider Prof Richard Lindzen of MIT. There are so many others.”.

Gosh, but they “deleted” that comment!!!!

Can’t stand the heat, I guess. Clearly align themselves with how Fascists think.

DeletedComment is now deleted from my podcast list, and my daily RSS reading list. As are Russ Baker’s book on the Bush family from my Kindle. I was going to read it again. Clearly he has a soft mind and I can’t take anything he says or writes with any authority. Slack and credibility destroyed.

“Being Nixon”

November 19, 2015

I am really enjoying “Being Nixon” by Evan Thomas. I had first heard about the books on more than one podcast I listen to. I’m very much reminded how effective Mr. Nixon was throughout his career. It is a pity he succumbed to the shenanigans we now call Watergate.

Too bad he isn’t around now as President.

Value of Engineers and Engineering

December 22, 2014

Awesome Dilbert from on 18th December.

In a world where in the media recognises only “scientists” (whatever that means) to have a voice on issues related to science, technology, and it’s impact on and use by humans, this is awesome. Chartered and Professional Engineers have legal obligations related to their work that no “scientist” I know has.

Engineers are responsible for so much more than fixing washing machines.

Domain Migration

December 18, 2014

We just completed migration of the domain for to a new domain registrar, Hover ( Very impressed with their service. I heard of them via Leo Laporte on

We also re-hosted the web site onto a simple web server hosted by I like simple web sites. it’s static. There are no server side scripting, e.g. PHP, ASP.Net, etc. or any databases involved. Simple.

The purpose of these changes was to save some money (not insignificant), and to make things simpler.


November 13, 2014

Why, when I clearly give my name in talking situations as “Rob”, my email signature is “Rob” … some people refer to me in talking or in email as “Roy”?

A mystery …