My favorite stuff from 2014, Part 1

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It’s that time of year again. Well, I’m actually a little late, but it was an especially busy holiday season.

This is my annual list of the apps, both old and new, that I found the most useful over the past year (2014). There are some exclusions, and there are probably some I forgot, but it’s a pretty complete list. I’m including some of the hardware purchases I’ve loved this last year as well.

This is part one of two. Part two will focus on utilities and dev tools. This post includes backup and sync tools, music apps, games, reading and writing tools, and productivity apps.

Shall we begin?

Backup/Sync

I’m pretty religious about backups, and it very recently paid off in a way that made me attack my strategy with renewed vigor. So we’ll start there.

Backblaze has been great on many of my machines, and I augment it with Time Machine and Arq (S3 and SFTP) backup. I also use my Transporter and BitTorrent Sync for both file sync across machines and a “personal cloud” backup.

My backup regimen would not be complete without cloned drives, and SuperDuper! remains my tool of choice for that added layer of security and convenience.

I also recommend Back-In-Time 3 if you work with Time Machine. It makes it much easier to locate specific revisions of specific files than the default “outer space” interface of Time Machine.

Bookmarking

I bookmark everything. I’ve given up on most “Read Later” services and opted for a Pinboard-only approach, making use of tags and the built-in “read later” functionality. Some of the apps that have made this a more pleasant experience include:

Worthy of mention is fetching, which watches your browser and records the text from every website you visit. I’m not enamored with their planned pricing model, though, and will probably look into alternatives for this over the coming months.

Design

Despite moving away from it as a primary job description, I still have a frequent need for design tools. Choosing colors and schemes (and translating colors to appropriate code formats) is a big part of that, and my favorite tools right now are ColorSchemer Studio (great for finding schemes) and Pochade, which is great for picking, adjusting, and converting colors. Pochade recently updated for full Yosemite support and fixed a few bugs in 10.10.

I’ve also been working with Hype2 for HTML5 animations. There aren’t many of worthy competitors left in this arena, but Hype2 has done a great job for me thus far.

Macaw is a newcomer this year, and is an impressive tool for responsive design. I’ve used it mostly for prototyping, but it has the capability to be a full website design tool.

Sketch 3 is one of my favorite new apps. It’s entirely replaced Adobe Illustrator for me, and taken a big chunk out of what I would normally use Acorn or Photoshop for. There’s still plenty of room for Acorn in my workflow, though, especially for raster image cropping, resizing, color adjustment and more.

For pixel perfect layouts, you still can’t beat xScope. The version released this year keeps it unquestionably in my top 5 UI (and general) design tools.

ImageOptim and ImageAlpha are free utilities that continue to be a very important part of my blogging and web design workflow. ImageAlpha is especially amazing for cutting large, transparent PNG files down to 25% or less of their original size without significant quality loss.

Video

Most of my video editing needs involve screencasting, and I don’t have any professional opinion on “high end” video editing systems these days. Here’s what works for me, though:

I also have fun with iStopMotion, though I don’t have many practical uses for it. It’s a blast, though.

Additional video app mentions:

  • Play+ for YouTube turned out to be a great dedicated YouTube client
  • ServeToMe and StreamToMe are an excellent way to view video (in almost any format) from one machine on another, as well as on any iOS device.
  • Waltr is a new app that can (blazingly) quickly convert and upload any video to your iOS device
  • Briefly is a fun way to turn a pile of photos into a video for yourself or for sharing with friends

I’ve also had fun with animated GIFS, both for practical and humorous purposes. LICEcap is an awesome, free tool for directly saving screen captures as animated gifs, and GIFBrewery does a good job of converting video to GIF.

Because I don’t have a great category to stick it in, Deckset gets a mention as a video tool. It’s an awesome, self-contained app that turns simple Markdown-based syntax into beautiful slide decks, complete with presentation tools.

Games

I don’t play many games, and especially not on my Mac. I’ve never been able to explain why. I think I just find coding more fun than most games. Nonetheless, I recently found my current favorite iOS time killer, 2048, on the Mac App Store. It’s a good one for playing during long compiles. Honorable mention to SpellTower, too.

Music

I’ll start the music section with some hardware I’ve found this year and really enjoyed. First I got some new desktop speakers based on recommendations from R. Matthew Ward, a Systematic alum who knows what he’s talking about. I ended up with the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Andrew Jones Designed Bookshelf Loudspeakers, and the Dayton Audio DTA-120 Class T Digital Mini Amplifier. The combination is stunning.

On the composition side of things, my modest needs have been more than met by some hardware from IK Multimedia:

The iRig Keys and Pads Bundle is a small (i.e. desktop-size) MIDI controller plus a 16-pad drum and sample trigger, both with USB and MIDI connectivity

The iRig Blueboard is a Bluetooth stomp box with 4 controllers that can be set to toggle on/off or on-while-held. They work with any iOS or Mac effects app that can be toggled with MIDI signals (relayed through the Blueboard app for Mac/iOS).

The iRig HD is an affordable, high quality interface for analog-to-digital conversion that works with both Mac and iOS. I use it to get mics and guitars into some of the great effects programs available on both platforms.

I also picked up the Griffin StudioConnect as a kind of audio “dock,” and have found it quite handy. Note that it still comes with a 30-pin connector, so you need an adapter to use with any recent iPad.

And then there was software…

  • Airfoil is probably my most-used audio app on the Mac, pushing audio from any app out to an Apple TV or another Mac (with Airfoil Speakers)
  • Shush is a podcaster’s best friend: a cough button and mute switch in one
  • Spotify is where most of my music comes from
  • VOX is a gorgeous iTunes replacement with a long list of format compatibilities, along with Soundcloud and radio features
  • Simplify, along with my Sidecar jacket, remains my favorite music controller for iTunes, Spotify, and Vox
  • Tomahawk isn’t perfect, but it’s an amazing way to bring all of your audio libraries into one app (and share it over a network)
  • djay Pro; ok, I haven’t sprung for Pro yet, but I love djay and the new Spotify capabilities are awesome

Composing

  • AmpKit is a great guitar effects and amp modeling app
  • SteadyTune is my guitar and bass tuner
  • Capo can slow down recorded tracks without changing pitch for play-along practice
  • DM1 is still the best drum machine out there

Writing

If you’ve followed my posts lately, you’ve probably heard more than one mention about how integral mind mapping is to my writing process. So mind mapping is where I’ll start the writing section.

iThoughtsX is my top mind mapping and brainstorming pick for multiple reasons: great iOS companion app, scriptability, amazing export and import formats, and it integrates directly with Marked 2. It also allows for a variety of notes and attachments within map nodes, and did I mention the Marked 2 integration? It’s awesome.

MindNode Pro is my runner up right now, and it’s a gorgeous app with similar export options. For collaborative mind mapping and sharing, you can’t beat MindMeister.

I far prefer mind maps to outlines, but when I do need a more linear view, Tree is my favorite option for viewing outlines while still maintaining the feel of a mind map.

When I’m ready to get down and dirty with a writing project, my current favorite editor is MultiMarkdown Composer. For larget projects, I love both Scrivener and Ulysses 3, each with their strengths.

When writing technical documentation, I adore Clarify. It even works well with Markdown and can post directly to multiple blog platforms.

I use Day One every day, both for journaling and with Slogger.

While I’ve never written for screen or stage, I do have to mention Slugline, a great app for screenwriters working with Fountain. It works with Marked, too!

Draft Control has also been great for me. It can track your progress and save diffs between versions of Markdown files or just about any word processing app. Keep an eye on WordCounter, too, as there are some exciting things going on with it. Writefull also deserves mention for its great potential.

Productivity

At the top of my productivity list is TextExpander, and not just because Smile has been a great supporter of my work. I can honestly say that TextExpander is by far the most singularly useful app on any of my machines (and my iOS devices). PDFpen 6 (also from Smile) has been an excellent tool for me on OS X for PDF handling, OCR, and annotation as well.

1Password 5 is next on my list for overall productivity enhancement. It’s technically a utility, but I use it so often and in so many places that it has to be a productivity app for me. The latest versions have added the ability to pop up and search the 1Password database from anywhere (not just web browsers) and is the ultimate tool for me when generating and recovering secure passwords, tracking logins, and even remembering all of my software registration codes.

Next up would have to be PopClip, a utility I didn’t think I needed at first but which ended up being one of the most useful tools in my workflow.

Popclip is followed closely by LaunchBar and Dropzone 3, an infinitely extensible tool for building “dropzones” to handle any task you need to perform on files.

Cobook is my top app for contact management, and Fantastical for calendar management. Hopefully I don’t have to elaborate too much on these, but if you’re looking for new apps in either of these areas, these are definitely my suggestions.

For note management I primarily use nvALT. I moved away from Evernote a while ago. It’s not because I don’t think it’s an awesome application, just that I couldn’t commit 100% to its ecosystem. I’ve found Curio and Together 3 to be ideal for me, and TinderboxSix offers great possibilities that I’m just starting to explore in their entirety.

I use OmniFocus for my long-term and day-to-day todo lists, but all of my coding projects live in plain text files. FoldingText and TaskPaper provide all of the utility I need for managing todos and bugs.

My email was handled almost entirely by MailMate this year. After diving through email client after email client, I finally came around to MailMate and haven’t been tempted to switch for almost a year. That’s a record for me. Mailplane 3 is the only other app I’ve used recently, and it’s an excellent interface directly to Gmail when you want to use more Gmail-style searches.

iBank 5 is where all my finances were tracked last year. It works flawlessly even with my credit union accounts, and makes tracking income, taxes, and budgets easy.

I’ll admit that I frequently lose track of time spent on my computer. Timing has been a great app for remembering where I’ve been, what I was doing, and how long I spent working on it. Time Sink is a solid runner-up, as well.

For document scanning, I upgraded my Doxie to the Doxie Go in 2014. In combination with PDFpen and the Doxie Software, it’s been great.

Special mentions in this section go to Highlights, an amazing tool for two-way sync of Markdown notes with PDF annotations, and Soulver, the only way my logic-challenged mind can sometimes figure out mathematical problems.

Reading

The vast majority of the reading I do on my Mac is through RSS feeds, and ReadKit has become my go-to app for that. For my brain, long-form articles are best served in small slices, and Slicereader is the perfect solution for that.

If I’m reading an e-book, BookReader is great and features support for my LEAP motion controller so I can easily turn pages even when my treadmill desk is running at high speed.

Miscellaneous

In the category for things that I don’t have other categories for there are a few apps that deserve mention.

If you ever order things you want to keep an eye on (or order so much stuff you can’t keep track of it, lucky you), Deliveries is a must have. It’s not new, but Yosemite integration and its excellent iOS companion app are definitely worthy of mention.

I’ve tried quite a few recipe managers. I don’t even cook that much, but I enjoy it when I do. Paprika Recipe Manager is the best combination of Mac and iOS apps that I’ve found. Import recipes from websites, generate and use shopping lists, and plenty of other features without making a complex mess of it all.

I love my desktop images. I usually scour DeviantArt and other forums for them, but uDesktop NEXT has been a great boon for my background images.

Thanks to a tip from Dr. Drang, I picked up the Atlas Glove 460. I live in MN, and these things are awesome. You can’t beat windproof, waterproof, and well-lined if you have to shovel snow in -20° F.

I also go through USB hubs like crazy, and this year went through a few as I upgraded everything to USB 3. The Satechi 10 Port USB 3.0 Premium Aluminum Hub turned out to be my favorite. It offers 7 USB 3 ports and 3 rapid charging ports. The form factor is perfect for a hub that changes plugs frequently, as opposed to one that has a static set of peripherals and can live behind your front-facing setup.

For charging multiple devices, I’ve been really happy with the Photive 50 Watt 6 Port Rapid Charger. One outlet, six devices. Perfect.

I also ended up hunting for a new stand for my 13” MacBook Air last year. I tried a few (and have tried many in the past), and the Rain Design mStand is the clear winner for me. I needed a stand that would be sturdy, even at the expense of a larger desktop footprint. The mStand stays sturdy enough that you can put things like USB hubs under the shelf without worrying about disturbing them every time you set down or pick up your laptop.

I mentioned CyberGoo on Overtired recently. “As seen on TV,” it’s an excellent (albeit gimmicky) tool for cleaning garbage out from between keyboard keys. It’s slime, but really good slime.

Ok, stay tuned for part two, coming soon!