As the “resident geek advisor” to most of my friends and family, I get a lot of questions about what tools and tech I use and recommend. Inspired by Paul Thurrott’s “What I Use” series, I decided to document everything I use on a daily basis in one handy place. (Current as of late March 2020.)
(Click on each section to expand.)
I use a variety of computers for both work and personal tasks. My primary platform of choice is Mac OS X, but I use Windows on a daily basis as well.
Primary Laptop: Apple MacBook Pro 16" (2019)
My daily driver is the new 16" MacBook Pro, with a pretty decent spec:
- Intel Core i9 8-core 2.4Ghz
- 32 GB RAM
- 2 TB SSD
- AMD Radeon Pro 5500M 8GB
- Das Keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches
The machine is connected to three 4K displays-- a 42" flanked by two 27" in portrait mode. This gives me all the screen real estate I need for development and design tasks.
3D Design and VR Development Laptop
For content creation, 3D modeling, and VR/AR development (mostly in Unity3D) I use an Alienware A51M that's ridiculously spec'ed:
- Intel Core i9 8-core 5ghz
- 64 GB RAM
- Dual 1TB SSD RAID 0 (main drive)
- 2TB SSD (data drive)
- NVidia RTX 2080
- Asus XG35V widescreen gaming display
- Razer Blackwidow Chroma v2 keyboard
- Logitech MX Master mouse
- Loupedeck + control surface for editing
Home Desktop: Custom-Built Gaming/Development Machine
My old gaming and development rig (named "Gunter") that I built in late 2015 lives in my basement "nerd cave/holodeck." This system has a Skylake Core i7 6700K with a mild overclock to 4.6GHz, 32 GB of DDR4 memory, and a 400GB Intel 750 PCIe SSD for system and apps, and a generic 1TB SSD for data and games. For graphics, it uses an Nvidia RTX 2080.
The machine is connected to a 43" Vizio 4K TV that does full 4K resolution at 60fps, and it all sits atop an Ikea sit/stand desk.
The input devices I use on the gaming/development machine are a Razer BlackWidow Chroma keyboard and Razer Mamba Tournament Edition wired mouse. And, of course, its primary reason for existing, an Oculus Rift CV1 and HTC Vive with a 14x16 padded play area for room scale VR.
Home Server: Synology DS-918+ NAS
My storage needs are currently taken care of by a Synology NAS device with a 4x8TB hard drive array and 128GB SSD read and write caches. I'm really quite fond of this little device, which has been fantastic. I've had to replace a drive or two, but it always told me in advance. It's never lost data, and has been chugging along at a solid 3-nines (99.9%) uptime over the last 3+ years. I might need to add an expansion cabinet with more drives, since 8K and 5.7K immersive video content takes up a lot of space.
Tablets and smartphones have become a huge part of our every-day computing reality. Outside my day-job, my iOS devices are used an order of magnitude more than my traditional computers, and fewer and fewer tasks are requiring me to go to a desktop or laptop.
Smartphone (Primary): Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
My primary phone is a 512GB iPhone 11 Pro Max in "I refuse to call it space" gray. Pleasantly surprised by the camera's capabilities, but I still miss the fingerprint reader.
Tablet (Primary): Apple iPad Pro (11")
My main tablet is a 512GB iPad Pro 11" (WiFi) in "I refuse to call it Space" gray. The screen is gorgeous, it's huge, and it's crazy fast for a tablet. I have the Pencil (great) and keyboard (meh) as well.
E-Reader: Amazon Kindle Oasis
I read a lot (in 2011, I read over 100 books… a record I’ve not come close to since.) Much of this is on my beloved Kindle Oasis, which replaced an old Kindle Paperwhite. I love this reader– it's insanely compact and light, and the battery life is truly exceptional.
Primary OS: Mac OS X 10.15 "Catalina"
All of my Macs are running 10.15, and I consider it my "primary" operating system despite the fact that I use both Mac and PC machines on a daily basis. This has been the case since around 2004 (and through most of the late 80s and early 90s) but that almost changed in 2017. The main thing that keeps me coming back to Mac OS X is the fantastic hardware, Unix command line, and general lack of malware (though I continue to assert the latter is due more to being a smaller target than being inherently more secure.) Regardless, it's what I use for probably 70% of my desktop/laptop computing..
Secondary OS: Windows 10 Professional and Enterprise
I have a personal gaming/development workstation and two laptops that run Windows 10 Professional, and several work-related virtual machines running Windows 10 Enterprise (one of which is running all day when working.) I mostly skipped Windows 8, but I prefer Windows 10 (when configured to my preferences) to Windows 7.
Virtual Neural makes extensive use of the Microsoft Office 365 suite, which I strongly recommend.
Personal Information Management
For managing projects and next actions, I use OmniFocus for Mac and iOS. This is one of my favorite pieces of software— it’s beautifully designed and thoughtfully executed. At the moment, there are 426 actions across 214 projects in my OmniFocus database, so a tool with this level of power is necessary for managing the complexity inherent to my job.
For contacts, I use Outlook, but I am looking at options to improve things on that front. Stay tuned.
For calendaring, I use Outlook and Exchange Server. While this is an area where I don’t really have a choice due to my work, I would probably use it anyway out of inertia since I’m a former Microsoftie.
For notes, I use a combination of tools. Microsoft OneNote is my personal wiki, and where I take meeting notes and develop ideas on Mac, Windows, and mobile. I use DayOne as a Daily Record of Events (DRE) and personal/professional journal. (My strong preference is nvALT, but it's fallen hopelessly out of repair-- I'm hoping Brett makes good on his promise to release a commercial version-- shut up and take my money, Terpstra!)
I will probably always have a Creative Cloud subscription as a former Adobe employee, I find that I use Premiere and Photoshop most frequently, followed distantly by Lightroom and AfterEffects. I also use Acrobat Document Cloud a lot less since I left Adobe, but still love having it enough to keep paying for it.
Many people are surprised to learn that the new Chromium-based Microsoft Edge is my daily driver on both Mac and PC. I like the way accounts are handled, and it's extremely compatible.
Tools and Utilities
While I try to keep my Mac and Windows machines relatively stock because I use so many different computers, there are a number of neat little software utilities I have come to rely on.
Soulver is what calculator software should be - think markdown meets sipreadsheets and you’ll be close.
Bartender manages all the stupid menubar icons on the Mac.
ScreenFlow is an amazingly powerful screen recording and editing tool.
Transmit is the best file transfer tool available on both Mac and IOS.
TextExpander is a wonderful tool for automating those little bits of text that you type a dozen times a day. It continues to save me hours per week, a few seconds at a time.
Hazel is my favorite automation tool. It watches a directory and performs little actions in response to changes... sounds simple, but it's incredibly powerful in practice.
This is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather it's a list of the iOS (and Android) apps I use on a daily basis and love enough to recommend.
- Microsoft Office (OneNote, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, Excel)
- AlienBlue (Reddit)
- Night Sky
- Topo Maps
- Wolfram Alpha
I love movies, and we live in a new golden age of television. Here's how I consume it all.
Main Set-Top Box: Apple TV 4K
I have two current-generation Apple TV devices (one in the living room, and one in the basement in front of the eliptical trainer.) I also have a 4K Apple TV in my home office. It's what we use to watch movies, catch-up on TV shows, and watch all kinds of online video. It's a good device with a decent user experience, but it's backed up by an exceptional media ecosystem.
Gaming Console: XBox One
I used to work on the XBox team, so obviously I have an XBox One console with Kinect... I find I don't use it very often, but I still think it's a great gaming and media platform. Favorite games: GTA V, Dead Rising 3, Forza 6/Forza Horizons, and Elite: Dangerous.
TV: Vizio M Series
I did a lot of research before buying a TV, and wound up settling on the Vizio M series because I wanted the active LED backlight zones. There are slightly better TVs for two or three times more money, but there wasn’t anything that approached the picture quality of the Vizio M anywhere near the same price point. Given the layout of our living room, we went with 55” and I’m extremely happy with the purchase.
Why not 4K? Mainly because when I bought there was no content yet. Also, given screen size vs. the distance we sit from the set, we would not see a material improvement moving to 4K. (I do have a 4K TV in my office, but it's larger (65" instead of 55") and I often view it from a closer distance than in the living room.
I do not use any of the Smart TV features. Indeed, I strongly prefer to have this kind of functionality in a separate box which can be replaced and upgraded far more frequently than the TV itself. I think Smart TVs are dumb, but it’s getting hard to buy a decent TV that doesn’t have this functionality. At least it’s easy to ignore.
Downstairs in the basement, we have a 40” Samsung hooked up to the Xbox, and with a Vizeo soundbar. It gets used for gaming and playing music while we play billiards.
In my home office I have a Sony 4K HDR TV that is hooked up to a Comcast X1 box and an Apple TV. It's definitely the best TV in the house... at some point I plan to buy an 4K OLED for the living room, I just haven't gotten around to it yet.
Home Theater Sound: Bose Acoustamass 15
When we moved into the house, the previous owner had left a set of Bose Acoustimass 15 speakers hooked up in the living room (left/right, center, surround, and subwoofer.) I haven’t gotten around to replacing them because they sound fine. They are *definitely* not what I would choose if I was spending my own money, but I’m not in a big hurry to replace them. They are hooked up to a Sony STR-DH740 receiver, which is capable of 7.2 surround and 4K, so I won't have to replace it any time soon.
I’ve been enjoying the recent wave of home automation (AKA “Smart Home”) products brought on by the combination of new protocols (Zigby, Z-Wave, etc.) and the ubiquity of smartphones. I’ve been playing around with a few of these, and plan significant expansion going forward.
Logitech Harmony Ultimate
The Logitech Harmony universal remote control acts as the center of my home entertainment world. It controls not only the TV and associated consumer electronics, but lighting and other home automation stuff as well. Its best feature by far is the fact that it’s radio rather than infrared, so all of my gear can be behind a door and I don’t have to think about pointing it in any specific direction (or keeping it pointed as multi-step macros are executed.) Example: hitting “ Watch TV” on the remote turns on the TV, cable box, and receiver. It then sets the proper inputs, dims the lights in the living room slightly, and washes the wall behind the TV with blue light. I love this thing.
I have a bunch (more than 50) Philips Hue bulbs (and a few LED strips.) All of the living room and most of my home office lights are Hue, and I use the LED strips for accent lighting in the living room. I haven’t tried the Hue Lux bulbs yet, but their lower price might prompt me to expand their use beyond the living room and home office. They are controlled by my phone or the Harmony remote.
I use Belkin WeMo switches for outdoor lighting (comes on at dusk, turns off at dawn, porch light can be turned off from the universal remote, etc.) WeMo makes sense to me for places where Hue isn’t applicable. However, I'm looking for a replacement, as I've been disappointed with the lack of third party integration and occasional flakiness.
Nest Thermostat and Protect
I have two Nest Thermostats (one upstairs, one downstairs, each controlling separate furnace/AC systems.) I also have a few "Protect" fire/CO2 detectors. These have been great, but since I bought solutions have shown up that are 80% as good at less than 50% of the price (and Nest was acquired by Google) so I'm not sure i'd make the same choice today.
IFTTT (If This, Then That)
IFTTT is a great service that ties together software, services, and home automation. It’s great for simple recipes (when I get a Facebook comment there’s a brief flash of blue light in my home office.)</div> </li>
- Paperless Workflow
I have eliminated paper from my life. I no longer have a file cabinet in my office or home office. This has become something of an obsession with me.
ScanSnap S1300i Document Scanner
I absolutely love the ScanSnap devices. The s1300i is small and unobtrusive, fast, and easy to use. I can put a small stack of paper in, push a button, and have everything scanned (both sides) and converted to PDF (with full OCR on the text) within a second or two per page. It's one of those rare pieces of technology that does exactly what you want it to, every time, without fail or fuss. Seriously one of the best hardware purchases I've ever made.
At some point, I'll write everything up in a post. However, my main workflow involves scanning documents into PDF (with OCR text) into an inbox directory. Then, based on document characteristics, at least half of the documents I scan are automatically processed and placed into the appropriate dropbox directory based on Hazel rules I have set up. The other half is mostly hand-written notes from legal pads or index cards that get dumped into Evernote in JPEG format. 90% of my workflow overlaps with what's described in David Sparks' excellent Paperless Field Guide, which I recommend picking up if you use a Mac.
- Online Services
There are a number of services that I find absolutely invaluable, and despite my predilection for privacy and security, I’m not afraid of the cloud. Here are some services I couldn’t live without. (I need to expand a bit on the list below, but I didn't want to leave them out even though I haven't had time to write it up yet.)
File Sync: Dropbox
Personal Email: Google Apps
Work Email: Exchange (Office 365)</em>
Personal Backup: Backblaze
Work Backup: CrashPlan
- Digital Media
Whole new world out there. The amount of content that’s available is staggering, and the quality and convenience has never been better.
Watching TV: Comcast Xfinity X1
I’m a Comcast subscriber, and am pleased with the X1 platform. We have a primary cable box in the living room, and satellite boxes in my home office and basement rec room. It’s awesome being able to watch DVR recorded shows from other rooms, and record a silly number of shows at once. Great platform, it’s been reliable for me.
Downloads: Apple iTunes Store
When I purchase movies, TV shows, and music I do so through iTunes (on the Apple TV.) I have a fairly substantial movie library built up this way, which is like an albatross hanging around my neck tying me to Apple’s ecosystem. Fortunately, Apple hasn’t let me down and I continue to love their devices… but if that changes it will be hard to switch. It’s hard to beat the convenience, but I recognize that’s just Stockholm syndrome talking.
I also rent movies through iTunes, which, unlike purchased content, is not evidence of my own stupidity.
The library is stored on a NAS device in my basement, and can be consumed from Apple TVs, iOS devices, and computers throughout the house.
Streaming Video: Netflix, CBS All Access, Amazon, and Hulu
We occasionally use streaming services to catch up with episodes we've missed, or binge-watch shows old and new. The three main services we use are Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. However, I'm constantly trying out new services. Thanks to Star Trek, I'll probably have a CBS All-Access sub forever now.
Music: Apple Music
Most of my music purchased in the last 10 years was from Apple's iTunes Store (though a small chunk has come from Amazon... it's great that everything plays nicely together now days.) We also have a family subscription to Apple Music, which we don't use nearly enough-- old habits die hard.
Photography: Apple and Google Photos
Probably 80% of my photographs are taken with my iPhone— the camera is that good. The only time I wind up using a real camera is when I need a strong zoom lens. Hence, I bought a camera based primarily on the quality and power of the zoom, settling on the Sony DSC-HX50V with a 30X zoom. I also have a Canon 1080p camcorder that I use on occasion. However, we take a shamefully small number of photos-- something I keep meaning to remedy.
For photo management, I have pretty much switched over to Photos.app, which I am generally happy with, and I use Google Photos for a combination of backup/redundancy and tagging/search. I found Lightroom was overkill for me because I take so few photos, and iPhoto had just become downright offensive.
For photo editing, I use Photoshop— Lightroom would probably be better for some use cases, but I’ve been using Photoshop since the early ‘90s, and I’m just used to it. Incredibly powerful.
Books: Amazon Kindle and Audible
I buy e-books pretty much exclusively from Amazon's Kindle store (which I consume primarily on a Kindle, occasionally on an phone or tablet.)
I buy audiobooks exclusively from Audible.com, which I absolutely love. I have over 600 audiobooks in my library, and have been a subscriber for 15 years now.
I love podcasts. My podcast player of choice is Overcast-- a great app with a thoughtful (read: opinionated) minimalist design, and meaningful differentation in terms of audio quality and features.
The podcasts I listen to every single episode without fail are few:
- What the Tech
- Security Now
- Accidental Tech Podcast
- Voices of VR
- Planet Money
- FiveThirtyEight Podcast
Then there are "occasional" podcasts that I subscribe to, and listen to selectively based on time and interest in the topics covered in the show notes:
- Windows Weekly
- MacBreak Weekly
- The Future and You
- Ace on the House
- Back To Work
- Fix It Home Improvement
- The Talk Show
- Mac Power Users
- The Random Show
- Singularity One on One
- Star Talk Radio
- This is Only a Test
- Untitled: The Adam Savage Podcast
- The SmartHome Show
- Under the Radar
I am no longer a developer by trade, but I still try to keep my skills (reasonably) sharp. Software development is a tool-heavy hobby, and here’s what’s in my toolbox:
My favorite language is C# - it’s the one that I enjoy most, and best fits my own aesthetic and architectural sensibilities. However, the only place I really get to use C# is in Unity3D. I used C# for the first time in 2000, and promised on that day I would never write another line of C or C++, a promise I have thus far managed to keep. (However, I've still occasionally needed to read or perform static and dynamic analysis of C/C++ code over the years.) One of the nice benefits of working with VR and AR for over the last 5 years is that I've had a chance to play around with C# again.
I’m still ramping up on Swift, which I’m really impressed by so far. I wrote some Objective C back in college, and a couple more recent small iOS projects and am not a fan, so I’m very pleased to see Objective C have a modern successor; I'm pretty much just waiting for an interesting project to catch my eye to force me to learn it in earnest.
Historically, I’ve worked with a number of languages. Some I really enjoyed (ColdFusion, Perl, Ruby) and some were torture (Z-80 Assembler, Cobol.) And, of course, pre-2000 I spent a lot of time sweating over C/C++ code. I had to do a little PHP to keep my (now retired) WordPress install humming along, but I do not consider myself even moderately proficient.
My favorite IDE, by a wide margin, is Visual Studio (I’m currently using 2015 Ultimate.) It’s an incredibly powerful tool, and one that is an absolute joy to use.
I occasionally use Xcode, which is pretty damn good. It’s not quite up to VisualStudio standards, but it’s dramatically better than any other tool I’ve used.
I have, on occasion, been forced against my will to use Eclipse. Those occasions filled me with sadness and frustration.
Game Engine: Unity 5
I've been working in virtual reality and augmented reality for a while now, and I've been really impressed by Unity. It's incredibly polished and mature. If I were working on large-scale projects with more than a handfull of collaborators I'd probably consider moving to Unreal, but as an individual or for 2-5 person projects, it's tough to beat Unity.
Text Editor: VisualStudio Code
When not in an IDE, my text editor of choice is VisualStudio Code. (I'm a recent convert from SublimeText, which I still use occsaionally. I also still find myself dipping into BBEdit from time to time.) In case you're wondering, the answer is Vi. Emacs is for communists. I'd rather use Pico than Emacs.
Source Control: Git
For source control, I use Git exclusively for personal projects (and am occasionally forced to use Perforce against my will at work, obeyed under protest.) For public projects, that means GitHub, and for personal projects that aren't open source, I'm using Git-flavored Visual Studio Team Services and a local git server on my NAS. I usually use either the command-line Git or the built-in integration in VisualStudio and/or VisualStudio Code.</div> </li>
While at one time I was a semi-professional poker player (I earned about 60% of my income from the game before Microsoft ate all my mental bandwidth and online poker legality shifted in Washington state) now I’m just a passionate hobbyist. Still, though, I take the game seriously, and leverage several tools to improve my game.
Online Poker Room: Ignition
Ignition (formerly Bovada) has the worst software, disallows most helper tools, and has other policies that discourage serious players. As a result, the players here are attrocious-- much worse than players at the same level on other sites. Hence, this is where I play. :)
Hand History Review: PokerTrackerI do post-session analysis in PokerTracker even though it requires some massaging to get the hand histories in from Ignition. It's worth it-- the tool provides excellent hand analysis and statistical analysis tools. A must have for any serious player. I don't use a HUD because Ignition discourages it and because I play more offline than online, so I don't want to become dependent on it.</p>
I used to handle a lot of extremely sensitive data in my work, and was primarily responsible for ensuring the overall security of the Adobe Primetime suite. Needless to say, security remains extremely important to me. (It's also the subject people ask me about the most.)
Password Management: 1Password
I use 1Password by AgileBits to generate secure passwords and keep track of them.
To friends and family who ask, my recommendation varies by the user’s primary platform of choice. For Windows/Android users, I recommend LastPass, and for Mac/iOS users I recommend 1Password. Both 1Password and LastPass are available for all major mainstream platforms, but Mac users will be happier with 1P (even if they use Windows and/or Android on occasion like me) and Windows users will be happier with LastPass (even if they occasionally dip their toes in the Apple ecosystem.)
Whole Disk Encryption: BitLocker and FileVault
I strongly recommend the use of whole disk encryption technology for laptop and desktop computers. This will encrypt the entire contents of your drive with a key derived from your password so that if your hard drive falls into the wrong hands it is computationally infeasible to extract any of its contents.
On Mac OS X, I use FileVault (though I only recommend this for Mac OS X version 10.6 and newer.) On Windows, I recommend BitLocker. Both are great technology, completely transparent to the user.
There are other solutions, but none are as reliable and transparent as FileVault/Bitlocker. Unless your adversary list includes nationstate actors (and even then, unless you are a MAJOR target) these will do their jobs.
Both have options for backing up your decryption key to the cloud. In general, I recommend against doing this. You should back up your data so that if you find yourself unable to decrypt the drive you can simply restore from backup. Handing over your decryption keys to Apple or Microsoft to some extent defeats the purpose of encrypting your drive, and drastically reduces the security of the overall solution. There is nobody I trust to keep encryption keys safe in the cloud, sorry.
I use Windows Defender on Windows 8/10, and Windows Security Essentials on Windows 7. It’s free, updates through Windows Update, and has minimal impact on system performance and resource utilization. In my experience, Microsoft does a good enough job of discovering threats. The default configuration is fine for most users (myself included.) Is it the best? Nope, not even close... however, it's free and low-impact, and at the risk of pissing a lot of people off, anti-malware just isn't that important, especially for more advanced users.
On Mac OS X, I am reluctantly starting to use anti-malware tools, at least on work machines. Currently, I’m using McAfee. I’m not thrilled with it, but I haven’t found anything I like better yet. At some point, I will discuss the configuration options I have selected to strike a balance between performance and security.
I have previously recommended against anti-malware tools for Mac users— not because the Mac is inherently more secure, but because it was less of a target. That’s changing, and you can’t ignore the threat any more. Welcome to the world Windows users have inhabited for the last couple decades, Mac users.
File and Directory Encryption
Occasionally, I need to encrypt files for storage or transfer. I have stopped using TrueCrypt, even though I think it was a fabulous piece of software. Even with the positive results from the audit, I can’t trust or recommend the solution anymore since it’s no longer supported. Depending on the use, there are a couple of different tools I use to replace the functionality previously provided by TrueCrypt.
For secure storage on my home network and computers, I set up encrypted Sparse Bundle Files using Disk Utility. This creates an encrypted disk image which I can then mount on any Mac.
When I am encrypting something for transfer to someone, or for long-term storage, I use PGP/GPG. That way I don’t have to be concerned about cross-platform capabilities or Apple stopping support.
I use PGP pretty extensively in my work for secure communication with partners. My tool of choice is GPGTools for Mac OS X (which I contribute to annually) and iPGMail on iOS. (In the rare cases I need to use GPG on Windows or Linux, I just use bare-bones GPG command-line tools.)
I'm still waiting for someone to build an effective and easy-to-use email encryption solution for normal people. I've been waiting for 30 years now, so I'm starting to lose hope.
Secure Messaging: Signal and Threema
For secure messaging, I use Signal and Threema.
Signal I like for its pedigree and architecture, Threema I like because of its novel in-person validation. Both are great tools.
Key management forces me to maintain secure (air-gapped) workstations. I think my solution to this problem is somewhat novel: the Raspberry Pi. Instead of buying a new retail computer for hundreds of dollars, I have a few Pi's sitting in a safe with known-good OS images that have never been connected to a network.
This is listed mostly as a place-holder. I was a long-time user of SafeMonk, which allowed me to encrypt a dropbox subdirectory on the client-side so Dropbox didn't hold the keys. Unfortunately, they went away and I haven't yet had time to vet alternatives.
- Paperless Workflow