My Tech Stack, 2018 Edition

I always find it interesting to learn about the tools people use in their work and play – often there are a few things that I haven’t heard of that I end up using – so I’m doing the same in case it’s useful to you.

Hardware

My main work computer is a 2017 5K iMac. This is overkill for the kind of work that I do today but I wanted a large high-res monitor for designing mobile mockups in Sketch and enough power to support my HTC Vive VR headset. It has a 3.8ghz i5 processor with 24GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and a maxed-out Radeon Pro 580; I plan to keep it for some time.

When I’m on the move, I work from a 2017 MacBook. It’s incredibly light and thin, and with 16GB RAM it can keep up with almost anything I throw at it, work-wise. By being judicious with the stuff I keep on it, a 256GB SSD has been fine. It would be nice to have more than one USB-C port but it hasn’t been a big problem.

I usually don’t upgrade my iPhone every year, but it was genuinely unavoidable last year since I really needed to see what our apps looked like with the new notch. I did get the ‘cheaper’ iPhone X 64GB though, and it turns out that 64GB is totally fine for my purposes. I wear an Apple Watch Series 2, which has about two days of battery life and yet still isn’t powerful enough to run third party apps smoothly; and I adore my AirPods, which may be Apple’s best product of the last few years.

I use a Moto G5 for testing our apps on Android – I deliberately chose a cheap, but not dated, device.

At home, I do most of my web browsing on a 2016 iPad Pro 9.7″. I’m not using it quite as much as I imagined I would because the iPhone X is so fast, and I’ve moved over to reading books on my Kindle Paperwhite.

We have three Sonos: Play 1s for music in the kitchen and living room. They sound good but I detest the Sonos app and can’t wait until Airplay 2 rolls out. Depending on how Sonos deals with integration, I may have to buy a Sonos One to make them all work properly; or I might add to the single HomePod I have upstairs, which sounds fantastic but is really quite expensive.

Our Nest Thermostat has genuinely saved us a lot of money already, and the various Homekit-compatable Philips Hue lightbulbs are… fine. It is kind of ridiculous that my lightbulbs occasionally need their firmware updating, but it’s also very cool that I can hook them up to a motion sensor so that I get free nightlights when I go downstairs. Of course, you can remote control the Nest and the Hue lights.

We have a 43″ 1080p Sony TV, powered by Android – it’s fine. There’s a Nintendo Switch connected to it, mostly used for Splatoon 2; a PS4; and an Apple TV, mostly used for Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Plex (more on that later).

Also in the living room is an Electric Objects EO2 digital painting frame, a lovely present from my brother. It is honestly very cool and it cycles through various classical artworks, internet gifs, and random modern art. Many people don’t realise it’s a monitor. Electric Objects is no more, so you’d have to check out Meural or Depict if you’re curious.

I record The Cultures podcast on a Blue Yeti microphone and pop guard. Rounding out my stuff is a ScanSnap S1300 which I got after a particularly stressful Christmas a few years ago when I didn’t have access to all my paperwork for tax filing. Since then, I’ve scanned practically every bit of paper I own. It took a while, but I appreciate the sense of security you get when your paperwork is immune to your house burning down.

Mac Apps

I use Safari on my desktop and laptop. It isn’t as integrated with Google as Chrome is, but it’s faster and significantly more power-efficient on the MacBook (to the extend of getting another 1-2 hours of battery life). Plus if you use Safari across everything, it helps you sync up bookmarks, history, and other stuff. I use 1Blocker for blocking ads.

Sketch is my design tool of choice, along with Pixelmator for any photo manipulation. Dropbox is invaluable for sharing and backup, and I use 1Password religiously as a password manager (it has apps on every platform). It takes a while to get all your stuff in there, but once you’ve done it, you’re pretty safe. Other work apps include the usual Microsoft Office (better than you think, these days), Slack for chat, and the Google Suite.

I can’t stand Final Draft for script reading and writing, so I use Highland instead. It is very pleasant, and much cheaper.

Reeder for my RSS feeds; Tweetbot for Twitter (more powerful than Twitterific); IINA for videos (more native than VLC); Audio Hijack and Skype for podcasting (and for my sins); Transmission for torrents; and Plex for streaming those torrents to my Apple TV (or any other device you can think of). Because I am simultaneously a terrible and good person, I bought a lifetime membership to Plex.

After using practically every note-taking app in existence, I’ve gone back to Apple’s bog-standard Notes app. It syncs excellently across all my devices, which is what I care most about.

Fastmail for my non-Gmail backup; WordPress.com for blogging; Micro.blog for a potential Twitter replacement, and Rocket for inserting emojis into everything. Apple Music, because all my stuff is from Apple.

iPhone Apps

I won’t bother listing the obvious ones here, but here’s a few notable ones:

  • Letterboxd for keeping track of movies I’ve watch
  • Goodreads for books
  • Google Photos, just as a way to back everything up
  • Amaroq for Mastodon (another potential Twitter replacement)
  • WeatherPro has very good forecasts and a lot of data
  • Dark Sky is surprisingly good at predicting rainfall in the next few hours
  • Train Times is still the best dedicated app for seeing how late you’re going to be
  • Instapaper for all my long-form internet reading
  • Reeder for RSS feeds
  • Apollo for Reddit
  • Overcast for podcasts (“Smart Speed has saved you an extra 181 hours…”
  • Unobstruct for cruft from websites

Security

I’ve turned on two-factor authentication on every service I use, and I’d encourage you to do the same. It would be very damaging and stressful if someone got access to my stuff online, and two-factor auth is the best way to protect yourself. Use Google Authenticator if you want to be ultra-secure, or Authy if you want to be slightly less secure but have an easier life.

Things I’m anticipating

The next smart home addition will be a Homekit-compatiable keypad door lock. Haters be damned, this is the 21st century and I don’t want to carry around bits of metal to gain entry to my house. I think this is the year they’ll get sufficiently affordable and secure.

As mentioned, I’d like to make all my speakers Airplay 2 compatible, so that’ll mean getting a Sonos One or another HomePod. I’ve been doing more reading, so I’m curious whether there’ll be significant improvements to the Kindle this year.

I’m not desperate to get a new Apple Watch or iPad – we’ll see what the improvements are. Finally, I’m waiting for a 4K OLED Dolby Vision-compatible (the ‘best’ HDR format) TV to get sufficiently cheap.

Do I need all this stuff?

No! But this is both my work and my hobby. Also, I don’t own a car and I don’t have kids so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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