Uptonian Thoughts

My Essential Tools

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In light of some recent excellent posts about tools that smart people use, here are my essential tools that I used in 2011.


I use a 15” MacBook Pro i5 with 8 GB of RAM. It’s quick and does everything I need it to. It’s not too bulky, but it’s certainly bigger than my older 13” MacBook. I keep toying with the idea of a MacBook Air, but I can’t justify the cost and I don’t want to use two machines.

I connect to an Apple LED Cinema Display when I’m at my standing desk, and I use a Logitech wireless keyboard and an Apple Magic Trackpad.

I do daily, local backups to a smallish volume on a 1 TB hard drive. The rest of the drive holds my music, photos, and other media.


I do all of my work (both professionally and on this site) on VMs in “the cloud” that I ssh to with iTerm 2. I love that it can copy-on-select and the customizable colors are more robust than in other terminal apps. I used the built in Terminal.app for a long time, but the latest iTerm 2 is stable and excellent.

I also use HTTP Client to test our API, as well as both Firefox and Chrome.

When I write code, I usually use vim, but I’ve been testing out the recent alpha builds of TextMate 2.

When I write for this website or for my own personal notes, I’ve started using Byword to write and preview Markdown. Its fullscreen and “paragraph focus” modes are nice touches. I’ve heard good things about Marked, which allows Markdown previews from any app, but I haven’t used it yet.

I’m not a huge calendar user, but I do keep track of shows I attend and personal events on Google Calendar. I interact with my calendars with Fantastical. Its natural language event input is pretty great and lets me add events really quickly.

I work on and use a browser-based email client at work, but I also like to use Sparrow. The minimal interface stays out of the way, but all my mail is available quickly. Shortcuts for reply and reply all make it easy to respond to threads. A nice little touch: Sparrow automatically picked up the fact that I had an IMAP folder called Archive in my work email and started using it when I press Delete to archive messages.

I use Alfred all day every day. My usage statistics say I average 13.6 uses per day, but if you didn’t count weekends, holidays, or days that I don’t actually use my computer, I bet it’d be a lot higher. I love the clipboard management.

I occasionally use Cloud to quickly upload screenshots, but I don’t use it for much else.

I use Dropbox to manage files, share some music with friends, and back up certain documents. I also store my (encrypted) 1Password data on Dropbox so that I can access my passwords from anywhere.

Divvy and Stay are two window management tools that I use all the time. When I disconnect from my display, Stay puts my windows back to where I want them. It doesn’t quite work with Chrome, but everything else works well. Divvy lets me resize windows on a custom-sized grid. You can even define shortcuts – I use “c” for a centered window and “6” for a window taking up 60% of the right side of the screen.

I recently started using Evernote, but I haven’t gotten into it just yet. I’ll have more to write about that when learn how to use it and actually start using it more. I do use Evernote’s Clearly browser extension to read articles on line.

For my musical pleasure throughout the day, I still use iTunes a lot of the time. However, Rdio (with Airfoil) is usually how I listen to music these days. Airfoil makes it easy to listen to music in my living room via my Apple TV.