Stephen Downes just posted his list of top tools for learning. I’m thinking about the tools that I use in my practice, and they’re pretty different from Stephen’s. These are the tools that I use for working and learning.

1. Safari and Edge

Web browsers run most of what we do. Safari is my main browser because it’s so nicely connected to sync bookmarks etc. over all of the devices that I use, and does it without draining batteries more quickly than necessary. But not every website works well with it, still, in 2022, somehow. I just can’t make myself use Chrome. I use Firefox occasionally. But Edge has really come along, and provides the Chrome renderer without the Google-ness. Yes, it’s Microsoft, but it’s pretty good and if I have to let a company track what I do on the internet, I’d rather Microsoft than Google. D’Arcy from 2005 would be shocked to hear 2022 D’Arcy say that…

2. Apple Mail and Calendar

We use Microsoft 365 on campus. But Outlook is just painful to use. So I use Apple Mail and Calendar. It works well (and works on every device that I use), but can’t do some of the shared calendar stuff that Outlook does, so I use the web interface for M365 for that. It feels like 90% of my work is email and calendars, so using software that doesn’t make me constantly grumble about things is important.

3. Apple Notes

The stock Apple Notes app is where all of my meetings, consultations, planning, etc. go. I had been using paper notebooks (moleskine and a nice pen) but kept hitting my head against not being able to find stuff. So I scanned the notebook into Notes for reference, and everything is digital again. I’d previously used OneNote, but it’s become so bloated over the years… Notes is pretty basic, but that’s a good thing. And it’s got enough features to let me basically ignore the tool and just write.

4. Omnigraffle Pro

I make a lot of diagrams. Many of them are for my own use, to track things. Many are for use in things like my dissertation or for sharing with team members. Nothing beats Omnigraffle Pro. I have a .graffle doc called “The Big Board” that I use to track all of the various projects that I (and the team) work on, with separate canvases to track ideas for things like institutional support models etc. I have another one to track progress on dissertation chapters. Etc. etc. etc.

Miro comes close, and works great for collaborative whiteboards, but, at least on the mac, it’s an Electron app. Which means it is basically an app wrapper around a web page, and it’s horrible for battery life.

5. Teams

I use the videoconferencing tool sometimes (but it pegs the CPU and makes the fan in my laptop blast like a blow dryer, and drains the battery quickly), but am not a huge fan of the UI during meetings (the “share screen” button is like 3 pixels away from the “hang up” button, for example). But the document sharing/collaboration and chat with various teams/groups is pretty good.

6. Zoom

Zoom just works better within meetings, and doesn’t peg the CPU like Teams does.

7. TexPad

My dissertation lives here. A mac-native, extremely capable LaTeX editor, that runs locally on my laptop rather than somewhere else In The Cloud…

8. NetNewsWire

I agree with Stephen - RSS is kind of like a secret weapon (but not a weapon…) that lets me quickly keep up to date on 187 websites of various types. NNW is a native mac app, it’s free and open source, and works great. And can sync everything to my own iCloud account so my subscriptions and activity aren’t being mined etc.

9. iCloud

All of my files are synced to iCloud. Again, it works perfectly on all of my devices. I am supposed to be using OneDrive, but I’ve had enough problems with things not syncing that I just won’t risk that. I’ll copy important files to OneDrive for sharing and/or retention, but working files are all in iCloud. Yes, it’s a cloud. Yes, it’s a Big Company. But I trust that my iCloud data isn’t being actively mined by Apple to push ads at me or to teach any algorithms how to best get me to do things for them.

10. Bloggy things

I kind of think of my blog as one thing, but it’s built using a bunch of things, including:

  • Reclaim Hosting (the best website hosting there is)
  • Hugo (static blog publishing)
  • Photos (photo management)
  • BBEdit (text editing)
  • MacDown (markdown editing)
  • Acorn (image editing)
  • Terminal 1(running various custom shell scripts do to things like set up daily photo posts, publish the blog website and upload it to the server, etc.)

  1. and, if I’m feeling old-timey, the sadly now-defunct Cathode retro terminal emulator so I can run it full screen and relive the ca. 1987 internet experience… BUT - it looks like software has been resurrected as Cool Retro Term… ↩︎