My Tools of the Trade

Inspired by MIke Gunderloy’s “Tools of the Trade” post:

Having just upgraded the hard drive in my laptop, and taken the chance to do a fresh OS install, I’ve had the opportunity to review almost all my tools. Here is how I get it done:


  • MacBook 13" 2008 unibody, 4gb, 500gb 7200rpm drive - I use this all day, every day, and I *LOVE* it, easily the best computer I've owned. So physically solid, and OS X is the most humane operating system I've encountered, (but not perfect, oh no.) I've just upgraded to the 7200rpm drive, which seems noticeably snappier -- although it could be the fresh OS install as well. Incidentally, I could only get a 500gb drive! I really only need a 250gb, but they're just not available. Anyway, I'm hoping I'll be able to get a 250gb solid state drive for under $500 in the next twelve months.
  • Standard Microsoft Mouse - Does the job. I've seen the Kensington Expert Mouse trackball mentioned twice in the last 24 hours, so I'm taking that as a sign, and will probably try one out soon.
  • Backup drives -- one at home, one at an off-site location. Rotated every couple of weeks. Backups using SuperDuper! nightly. Basically following JWZ's advice


  • MacVim - I never really gelled with TextMate. Vim feels like home, even though I only really started using it in anger mid 2008.
  • Eclipse - Mostly I hate Eclipse. For the benefits (code navigation and refactoring), the hassles just seem to much. Don't get me wrong, I know my way around it, and I'm efficient at using it, but there's too much lost time as well. An IDE is essential for Java work.
  • Pixelmator - Pretty easy to use, though I don't push it much.
  • Namely - I used to use Quicksilver, but it seemed like overkill, and wouldn't pick up new applications quickly enough (probably configurable, but it should just work.) Namely JUST launches apps, and does it quickly.
  • Evernote - Unbelievably, you can't seem to link between notes, or make a note hierarchy. I don't like Evernote all that much, but there's an iPhone app, and the sync seems reasonable. I wish there was a better option.
  • 1Password - It works, but they've really messed up the 1Password 3 / Snow Leopard issue.
  • Zotero - Crucial tool for organising my academic readings. The magic is it takes citations straight from Google Scholar, and handles different formats for material seamlessly. Combined with Skim (see below) it feels like a differentiator compared to my classmates' systems (Endnote, for instance, which just feels prehistoric.)
  • Skim - Beats Preview for annotating PDFs. Works brilliantly in tandem with Zotero.
  • SuperDuper! - Schedulable backups.
  • Things - There are a million organisation apps and systems out there, and I've tried a few, and this one seems to do enough to stick. Probably the fact that there is an iPhone app means something to me, even though the sync system is annoying.
  • VMWare Fusion - Parallels was my virtual machine of choice with my first Mac, but VMWare Fusion just seems faster and more stable. Looking forward to the 3.0 release at the end of the month.
  • Balsamiq - This is a great way to create mock ups of user interfaces. The best part is that they're a little rough, so clients don't get too attached. Kills Visio.
  • SizeUp - A nice way to tile windows in OS X. It's no Awesome (a Linux tiling window manager,) but it does the job.
  • SelfControl - Because sometimes/often I can't stop the distractions from, well, distracting me.
  • OpenOffice - Works great for me, although we have Excel spreadsheets for reference data that have macros, and OpenOffice doesn't help here.
  • Fluid - Mainly I use this for a dedicated JIRA browser.
  • Firefox - Wins for its supreme web development tools, like Firebug.
  • iTerm - I'd use Terminal, but it doesn't do 256 colours without a lot of hackery.
  • Adium - I don't really like chat all that much, but this works.
  • Colloquy - Man, I really suck at IRC. I fire this up about once a month.
  • iTunes - I fought iTunes for so long. Songbird had my vote, but when I got an iPhone, it had to be iTunes.
  • VLC - Plays media! Works!
  • Unison - A great way to keep my music library in sync over two machines.


  • iPhone - Best phone ever. Man, when I think back to that stupid Blackberry that I dealt with for a year, I get all angry.
  • Mac Mini - Serves media around the house, and light browsing.
  • Dell 24" LCD - This was great when I was doing a lot of work from home, but its just the Mac Mini screen now. It rotates to portrait orientation, which is great for coding.
  • MacBook Pro 15" 2006, 2gb, 80gb - This was my first full time Mac, a nice computer. It doesn't compare to the new one though. It is my wife's computer now.

Wish List

  • Fancy keyboard - Kinesis, Das Keyboard? I don't know, but it feels like I should have a swish keyboard.
  • Trackball mouse - As above, I think I'll try a Kensington Expert Mouse this week.