Software I Use

I am picky about the software I use. But I think I’m justified to be so: these are things that I use every day, and should help me get the work done I’m trying to do. So, as things stand in 2018, here is what I install on any new machine I work with.


When things get especially busy, I need a way to carve my day into blocks of time. The other problem: if I get focused on something, I’ll lose track of time. Gestimer helps remind me to take a break. While Pomorodo has never seemed to click with me, Gestimer serves as a good stand-in for that approach. If I need to focus on a task, I’ll tell the timer to remind me in 45 minutes to take a walk. It’s a small thing, but it works well for my brain.


While Apple’s default calendar app is pretty good, the ease of adding events to Fantastical can’t be beat. The natural language processing is too good to pass up, so triggering the app with a global shortcut lets me easily type “Call Paul on Monday at 3pm to discuss the podcast” all without the jumble of mouseclicks it would take to do that on any other calendar.

Alfred 3

Spotlight is good, and getting better, but for speed it can’t hold a candle to Alfred.


You should be using a password manager, and you should be using this one. Their apps are fantastic and they have great customer support.

iTerm 2

A great replacement for the default Terminal app.


Vim, but just the good parts. The killer feature is a much stronger plugin architecture.


Homebrew is how I install almost any software on my Mac that isn’t available in the App Store or on npm.

Visual Code Studio

I’ve abandoned Sublime Text and Atom for Microsoft’s Visual Code Studio when I’m doing Javascript and web development. Although I do most of my development work in vim and a terminal, the environment of Visual Code is terrific.


When I’m not doing Javascript and web development, I’m writing in R. And no R environment is complete without RStudio. Not only is it a must for development, but it makes for a great teaching environment as well.


I was a Chrome user for years, and waffled between Chrome and Safari for a long time (especially as the iPad become a go-to computer for working and Safari became rock-solid – but more on that in a future post). But with the launch of the new Firefox Quantum at the end of 2017, I’m back. It’s fast, privacy-conscious, and well-designed. Plus, Google is doing things hostile to a free and open web – so, I feel good throwing my support behind Mozilla and their mission to protect Internet health.1


I have nearly ten years worth of markdown files sitting in a notes directory in Dropbox that I keep synced with nvALT. And while this setup has served me well all this time, I’ve recently begun migrating much of that to Bear. With its markdown support but also rich text abilities, lovely design, solid iCloud syncing — and, of course, a whimsical Bear — it quickly became my default app for taking notes, keeping references, storing links, or planning projects.

Things 3

I think I’ve tried every task manager. After a year-long stint with Todoist, I’ve settled on Things 3. The design is gorgeous, but more than that the GTD system is still as steady and trustworthy as it was when I first started following its tenants years ago. Todoist had too many blockers that made it ineffective for my tastes (the lack of start dates being a big deal-breaker). Things handles all of this beautifully, and handles tasks in a way that I find just so human.

Nord VPN

You shouldn’t trust your ISP, and you really shouldn’t trust wifi networks you join from an airport or favorite coffee shop. Virtual private networks help secure your connection to networks. (Pro-tip: use Little Snitch to automatically block all incoming and outgoing traffic to your computer when you join an unknown wifi connection, and only allow the VPN connection before you grant the new network any level of trust.)

Pair this with Cloudflare’s new DNS service and force HTTPS, and you have yourself a good setup for privacy and protection.

Dropbox and Backblaze

I’m lumping my sync service of choice and my backup service of choice into a singular heading. They’re both great.

  1. This isn’t to suggest I never use Chrome or other Google services. I use plenty of them. But I’m wary about the influence that the company exerts on the web. ↩︎