A Geek's Toolbox

I’ve been thinking some lately about all the great software and services that I use during the course of an average day. While I’m excellent about whining when a business or product doesn’t meet my expectations, I’m not as consistent about shout-outs to the good ones. In order to help remedy that, here’s a list of the stuff I like and why I like it.

For normal people:

  • Google Calendar: (web) Managing a calendar for a family of 6 is a challenge. I used to use iCal, but was frustrated with keeping it synced across several different machines. Having the data on a central server eliminates the syncing hassles, the sharing options make it easy for multiple people to help keep things up to date, and the iCal support means that Kathy can subscribe to the calendars and still make pretty printouts with our calendar data from iCal.
  • Remember the Milk: (web) Absolutely rockin’ to-do list manager. Lets you keep multiple to-do lists, has hooks into SMS and IM services to remind you when things come due, integrates with Google Calendar, lets you share individual items or whole lists with other people, and has a very rich and flexible recurrence model so that I can set “Pay Bills” for the first of every month, but can set “Change Air Filters” for 60 days after whenever I happened to get around to doing it last. For web app nerds, it also has the best implementation of “Undo” that I’ve seen in a web application.
  • Bloglines: (web) A fine online RSS aggregator which integrates nicely with websites, mobile phones, etc. The “Weblogs” sidebar on my weblog is driven by Bloglines.
  • Flickr: (web) If you are into photography, you probably already know about Flickr. Photo hosting site that has great community features and data interchange support. It powers the “Recent Photos” sidebar on my weblog.
  • Netflix: (web) Great selection, good prices, and eliminates all of that tedious “interacting with real people” that you have to do at the video store. Add ratings, an excellent recommendations service, data export and some community features, and you have a winner. Powers the “What I’m Watching” sidebar on my weblog.
  • Grand Central: (web) Provides you with one phone number you can give out to people, which will then ring all of your phones, or only certain ones (or none!) depending on who’s calling. Has actually diminished my hatred for talking on the phone. See David Pogue’s fake ad for more details on this groovy service. (Now if they’d only get some numbers in San Marcos…) Powers this very tasteful button you can use to call me:

  • Gizmo: (Mac/PC) A VOIP program for your computer. I never got much into Skype, which does much the same thing as Gizmo, but when GrandCentral added Gizmo integration, I was suddenly able to make calls, local or long distance, to normal phones from my computer for free. (This may change once GC emerges from beta.) If I didn’t have a family, I’d have cancelled my regular phone line by now. As it is, having what effectively amounts to another phone line in a house with a teenager has proven useful.
  • Adium: (Mac) Very nice multiprotocol messaging client. Has a ton of power-user features, and integrates nicely with…
  • Growl: (Mac) A unified notification manager for Mac OS X. Lets applications that support it give you notification via a variety of popup window types. My main Mac pops up a little bar across the bottom of the screen with pertinent details whenever someone IMs me, when iTunes cues up a new song, when I get a new email, when Democracy Player finishes downloading a video, when iStumbler detects a new wireless network nearby, and more…
  • Comic Life: (Mac) Lets you make comics from photos or using your newer Mac’s built-in iSight camera. Immensely fun.
  • Democracy Player: (Mac/PC/Linux) Wraps up an RSS client, BitTorrent, and VLC into one nifty bundle. Part of the Participatory Culture Foundation’s suite of software that creates a complete end-to-end alternative video distribution channel through the Internet.
  • Firefox: (Mac/PC/Linux) The best, most flexible web browser available. And it’s free. Put IE behind you, slaves of Bill Gates!
  • Plaxo: (web/Mac/PC) After .Mac tried to eat my Address Book data for the 6th time, I went looking for alternative ways to keep that data in sync across various machines. Plaxo provided what I needed for free and added in some nice additional data management options. (You could, for example, use it to sync address book data across Macs and PCs.)
  • Google Earth: (Mac/PC) It’s like a virtual globe in your computer, but with all of the data-mining power of the internet behind it. Educational and fun.
  • Google Sketchup: (Mac/PC) 3D modeling for the rest of us. Easiest modeling program I’ve every used — handy for designing houses, furniture, modeling where the sun will fall on your property, creating building models to share in Google Earth, etc.
  • OmniGraffle: (Mac) What Microsoft Visio wants to be when it grows up and gets good taste. Superb package for visual communication.
  • Quicksilver: (Mac) The first thing I install on any new Mac. App launcher, data manager, and much more. I keep discovering new things it does. I’m pretty sure it makes french fries and gives backrubs.
  • Wesabe: (web) Online financial management program. Kicks Quicken to the curb with Web 2.0 flair, and has shaved about 30% off of my bill-paying time.
  • Bibliofile: (web) Well, yes, I wrote it, but I still find it useful. Keep track of your reading.
  • Pandora: (web) Lets you create your own radio stations with just the music you’d like. If only they’d get it working on the Wii’s web browser…

For programmers:

  • Trac: Combines a Wiki, a ticketing system, and a front-end to a SCM system (subversion, to wit). Each of the tools is nice individually, and together they make a bang-up addition for small to medium teams.
  • Subversion: Great source code management system. Has several important advantages over CVS, and is well-supported across a variety of platforms.
  • Eclipse: Really nice IDE, originally for Java development but now with plugins for all kinds of languages.
  • Magnolia: A CMS that emphasizes functionality and ease-of-use. We switched to this from Vignette, and my quality of life improved markedly. Great bunch of people, too.
  • Ruby on Rails: Outstanding framework for building database-backed web apps.