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My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things

Every so often, I take stock of which tech tools I’m using most frequently. My criteria of selection are simple:

– It’s easy to use

– It does an excellent job

– It saves me time

– I’m used to it and haven’t been convinced there’s a better mousetrap

– It’s fun

– It allows me to do something I couldn’t otherwise

Some of these tools are free, some are very expensive, some are moderately so, and most are now subscription based – this spares the user from sticker shock (as in, paying $1000 for a design suite), and it keeps revenue coming in for the creators.

Office suite:

I still use, on a subscription basis, Microsoft Office. It’s not an absolute “must,” but for a time there was some incompatibility between this suite and Google’s “Docs,” which, at no cost, has a version of Word, Powerpoint, and Excel, all equally powerful and very easy to store and share.

Online storage:

You will pay for storage over a certain limit, and the contenders here include Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud and OneDrive. There are others, and in this space, there isn’t exactly a one-for-one comparison. If you have a requirement for very large files, if high levels of security are an absolute must, or if it’s just you or your small business, you’ll want to compare offerings. Google Drive’s second tier (at $9.99/month) offers all that I need, even with a moderate amount of video. But while there is something handy about having your files stored locally, even on external drives, the reassurance you get from knowing your files are backed up on cloud storage is a real plus.

Graphics:

Adobe’s subscription for Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. They are
expensive, but because most graphic tools take more than a bit of learning, you’ll be inclined to stay with what you know – in spite of the fact that they
continually add new features, or change the way a screen in laid out. Gimp, an
open-source alternative to Photoshop, is handy if all you want to do is some quick photo editing or the occasional layout.

Also in this category is a very fine online tool called Canva. It has pre-sized templates for most standard applications (8.5×11, postcards, Instagram posts, Facebook headers, etc.) and pre-designed (though clearly “packaged”) layouts for something quick and easy.

Web design:

For your personal or club website, even for a small business, Wix is hard to beat. No, it’s not the perfect platform for a large corporation or for situations in which you’ll want secure areas or user memory, but it’s clean, easy to use, reasonably priced, and does include simple tools for shopping, blogging, and forms.

Fitness:

I don’t have a Fitbit, but I did get interested in tracking steps walked, so I hunted around and found a nice, simple to use tool that is iPhone integrated (the comparable ones for Android I didn’t find as useful). This one is called, naturally, Steps, and the basic model is free and simple tracks the steps you walk each day. You can set a target (it defaults to the recommended 10,000), and for a small fee you can upgrade to keep track of calories and make it look a little fancier. What I particularly like about it is it resets to zero at midnight, and keeps track of your history so you can track your progress. The one downside is, of course, you need to keep your phone on your person wherever you go, so it’s most handy if you take a daily walk rather than try to keep track of all steps walked each day.

Efficiency:

I use two primary tools: Google Calendar, and Workflowy. Together, they have replaced (mostly) my paper calendar. Google Calendar will show up on your phone and/or your desktop or tablet, will provide whatever alerts you give it, tracks events and work history endlessly, and integrates with other tools like Waze (on which more later) to let you know when it’s time to leave for an appointment. Workflowy is an “endless document,” or “document of documents,” on which you can keep track of the things you need to accomplish in long list format. They can be detailed —broken into steps or subunits— and copied from day to day. You can view them in a long list, or unit by unit. The way you organize them is up to you. If you have several types of things you keep track of, like a grocery list, a home chores list, a whom to call list, you can break those down by pages. I simply keep a list of all the things I need to do day to day – the ones with due dates will be on my Google Calendar as well.

Travel:

Google Maps is great, and will talk you through a drive and will give you a turn by turn set of directions, including street names or route numbers. But quite a while back I got used to Waze, another step by step tool that is not only handy but fun to use. It will alert you to other “Wazers” around, including your friends who use Waze, but the feature I like best is that it includes updates from other Wazers: traffic jams, police patrols, accidents or hazards on the road. I have learned to pay attention when it warns me to take an alternate route: usually it means there’s a good reason to want to travel another way. It also features a very clear map, with your current location, direction of travel, distance to go and expected time of arrival. You can add people to your trip so they know when you will arrive, including any delays. A fun feature is you can add your own (or someone else’s) voice so the directions are delivered the way you want to hear them.

Amazon Prime:

For the price, it has been a great service, offering quick delivery, free returns, videos and movies, and original series. It now offers delivery from local restaurants (in selected areas) as well as many grocery items. More and more restaurants and now grocery stores are offering home delivery – and I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, though on the whole it certainly will save time and offer service to people who might not be able to get around readily.

Discounts:

There are many browser extensions you can get now that bring you the best price on any given item you’re shopping for. Honey is one of them, and it’s definitely saved me money. Since I do most of my shopping via Amazon, it will alert me when another source can save me money (it quickly hunts for the best available price on the item that I want) and then it’s up to me whether it’s easier to stay where I’m shopping, or save the money by going elsewhere.

New to me:

PDFDrive. This is a cloud storage location for books on PDF – free. It’s a search engine/storage drive boasting over 78 million (yes, million) eBooks you can download, bookmark, and share. Needless to say, you’ll not likely get current best sellers, but you will find some interesting and unusual reading material.

Jamie Wallace