Programs/Applications I Use

The following is a list of the programs I am using most at the moment. Some I rave about, some do the job OK'ly, and some are "eh". The purpose is to possibly introduce you to a new program or two (granted, I won't be introducing anyone to iTunes, but I have to include it because it is a program I use all the time, second only to Photoshop (which I certainly won't be introducing anyone to but have included for the same reason) and to get your recommendations for alternative programs/apps for the ones that I am not totally thrilled with, or need advice/plugins.

  • Writely - This is the newest application I am using on this list and perhaps the one I am most excited about at the moment. This represents all of the promises of Web 2.0 and all of the things that we can look forward to. It is currently finishing the moving process to Google, who purchased it a few months ago, and has just become available once again to new users. I am always looking for an alternative to Microsoft Office applications, and the fact that this is free and web-based make this alternative even sweeter. It stores your files online (which is a pro and a con, if the site happens to be down you are kinda screwed. In my line of work though I am never to reliant on a document file so it isn't too much a worry for me) and saves in various file formats (pdf, html etc) and you can even post directly to your blog (definitely a plus for me, since wordpress doesn't have a built in spellcheck [see below]). Stoked Factor: 95%. Totally Recommended.
  • Gmail - Everyone uses Gmail, or at least everyone should. It doesn't offer the most storage (anymore, but was the 1st to offer a ridiculously large amount) but the features/ease makes it far and away the best web based email application and my own personal Thunderbird killer (along with Google reader and Google Calendar). To me, the best thing about Gmail is its seamless integration into all of my other daily applications (firefox, greasemonkey, google homepage). But I do like labeling my mail, better than foldering it; it helps to be able to assign multiple labels to a single email. The only thing I didn't like is that there wasn't a "mark all read" button, though I think there is now, but I am not sure if that is a Google fix or a Greasemonkey script. I can't remember. The only thing that I would like to add to Gmail is a better contact list. The current one is quick and easy, but I wish I could add phone numbers and addresses along with the name and email. Stoked Factor: 97%. An essential. And not to sound like a snob, but I kinda snicker at people with @yahoo or @hotmail email addresses.
  • Google Desktop - This list is admittedly a little Google heavy, but Google is the driving force of the web right now. That being said, I am only lukewarm with Google Desktop. I like the sidebar on my desktop with a quick overview of Gmail, news, weather, webclips, but it doesn't take me that long to open a browser and get all of that on my homepage. I also like the quick search of my desktop (even more since I added a plugin that organized all of my .dwg files) but I could certainly live..er, compute without it. Maybe I am not using it to its full functionality. This is one of the applications I really need your advice about. Stoked Factor: 50%. I could take it or leave it.
  • Google Calendar - This is just a simple web-based calendar. The major plus is that when used with my customized Google Homepage I can see my Gmail, Schedule, Rss Feeds (see below) as soon as I get on the web. I do like the ease of task entry i.e. "Pick up CNC milled tabletop next Tuesday at 3" directly from Google Homepage automatically inserts into my agenda. I am not sure if Google Calendar can sync with your Palm (since I don't use one right now) the way Outlook does. Let me know if any of you use GC with Palm or Blackberry or anything. Stoked Factor: 65%. A good calendar, but I can't get super excited about a calendar.
  • Rhino - A really, really good 3D Modeling program. I woud say "The Best" but I don't know Maya and I have seen some really incredible computer models built with it. Regardless, Rhino has made my architectural/design life much better. The ease of "drawing" in 3D compared with AutoCAD is astonishing. Snazzy little features like command line auto complete make it more friendly than other modeling programs. Used together with Flamingo and Bongo, it becomes a very capable rendering and animation program. The commands that I can't live without are split, loft, make 2d drawing, sweep 2 rails..and a lot more that I can't think of right now. The only thing I am not thrilled about is the difficulty of exporting to other programs. 2D to 2D Autocad works fine. Whenever I try to export a model to autocad I run into difficulties and I still haven;t found an easy way to get the model into 3D Studio. I know there is an export to 3DS function but the model comes in on a thousand different layers which makes applying materials a little too time consuming. I found a plugin for $350 that changes surfaces to objects (I think) and helps get the model into 3D Studio. While I am on this subject, lighting in Flamingo is pissing me off right now. It seems that whenever I turn the sun on all other lights turn off. For example, I have this openish outdoor canopy structure with a light in the middle. If the sun is off, the light shows up but everything else is dark. If the sun is on, it gets really dark under the canopy but everything else is fine. Do I need to create a daylight source? Does anyone know? Aside from these little things, I love this program. (Don't even get me started on CNC/Rapid Prototyping output) Stoked Factor: 85%. I think Rhino is the best Computer Modeling program for architecture. AutoCAD is too limited and Maya is too daunting. Rhino is easy and powerful and right now the most important tool in my computer design toolbox. And relatively cheap.
  • Wordpress - So far the best blogging application I have used. Free, easy to use, easy (ish) to install if you follow the instructions, easy to customize, tons of plugins.. it is like the developers took each and every good thing I have liked about Blogger, Movable Type and Typepad and put them into Wordpress. Except for a bloody spellcheck, and the plugin for a spellcheck seems to have been removed. I would have to say that my favorite feature/plugin is Akismet comment spam thing. Comment spam is the reason I decided to switch from MT to WP and so far Akismet has caught thousands of Spam(s?) and I couldn't be fucking happier. Stoked Factor: 98%. If you blog and aren't totally married to your blogging software, get Wordpress.

  • Google Reader - I read about 85-100 blogs/news sites per day.  Probably more than your average person, but probably less than some web junkies.  If I were to click-click-click from site to site it would take me all day just to get my daily info.  RSS is old news by now, but until now I hadn't found a reader that I was totally impressed with.  I had previously had all my feeds sent to Thunderbird but then my Thunderbird got some bugs and began to annoy the shit out of me and I decided to fwd everything to my Gmail and scrap Thunderbird.  But where to read all of my feeds?  Google to the rescue again.  Once you learn all of the keystroke shortcuts and "starring" and "labeling" Google Reader is very effective and productive.  Once again my favorite thing is that I can put GR on my custom Google Homepage and have everything in front of me as soon as I open Firefox.  Seriously, aside from eBay and my bank accounts, almost everything I need from the web is right in front of me on one page.  Note:  There isn't a "Mark All Read" button which can be really annoying if you decide you don't care to read blogs for a couple of days (esp. if you subscribe to feeds like Boing Boing, Huff Po, Defamer, MAKE etc.. that post 100's of times per day) you will find 1000's of unread items in your Reader.  But with Firefox and Greasemonkey (of course) there is an Auto-Read script that fixes all that. Stoked Factor:  100% with that Greasemonkey script addition.
  • Firefox - The best web browser I have ever used. Period. Some of the features I totally love: open all bookmarks in a folder in tabs, tabbed browsing, highlight+rightclick+"search web for" in a new tab, and best of all, Greasemonkey (see below). The fact that Firefox is open source has enabled many developers to produce add-ons and scripts that make browsing the web the way it should be, and gives us far more control over the way we browse. It just so happens that Firefox is a sponsored link of mine and you can get it for yourself from my site, but I recommend it whether you get it from me or not. Stoked Factor: 100%. Get it. It is the best. I promise.
  • Greasemonkey - Greasemonkey is a Firefox add-on that enables scripts to entirely change the way you see websites and how they work. (I know nothing about how these things actually work, so please forgive any inaccuracies in my descriptions) What I do know is that I needed some sort of "Auto-Read" or "Mark All Read" for Google Reader and voila! there is a script for that. You can get scripts that strip ads from all sites, that override CSS, that do just about anything. The most helpful scripts (and seemingly most plentiful) are for Gmail. Another great thing is that it's invisible; you install it, then install scripts (w/ one click) and it goes to work with no other attention form you. Stoked Factor: 80%. Great application. When there are tens of thousands of scripts written, it will be essential.
  • NoClone - The thing I love about the internet is that "you need something done, you do a Google search, you download the program, and the thing gets done". I was going through my files to begin putting my portfolio together when I saw that I had 40,000 files to sift through. I assumed that there were many duplicates because I work on at least 3 different computers at the same time + 150 gig external hard drive. So I got NoClone and it read all the file (not just names, it goes into the actual makeup of the file and compares the data and tells you which ones it want to delete. Then you push a button and it is done. Now 40,000 files is cut down to 15,000. Much more manageable. I also used it on my iTunes folder and got rid of over 2000 duplicate mp3's. Word. Stoked Factor: 100%. I rarely pay for little programs like this, but the $30-ish I spent on this saved me an insane amount of man hours and was well worth it.
  • Accuchef - I'm not sold on this one and I need some recommendations. I am currently using the trial version of this program, but I am not sure I will pay for the full version when the trial is up. Accuchef works. It stores your recipes. It scales ingredients by serving size. It builds shopping lists. It allows you to input ingredients and will tell you what you can make. It totally works. But. The interface looks dated, real dated. There are some little quirks that are completely annoying, like it saying "Hello" and "Goodbye" when I startup and shut down, which I am sure I could change, but it just shouldn't do that in the first place. I want: web-based recipe management software that allows multiple users to upload and share recipes and has all of the things I said Accuchef has, with a user-friendly interface. Does anyone know if this exists? Stoked Factor: 40%. Not sold on thisone.
  • Other programs that I use and recommend, the short version. Photoshop, Illustrator, iTunes, AutoCAD. Everyone knows everything about these and there is probably nothing helpful I an add to what you know. Except for that AutoCAD 2007 seems to have added many of the Rhino things that I raved about above, so maybe isn't as handcuffing as previous versions.