Last updated: February 10, 2023
This is a list of things I genuinely enjoy using, though I wouldn’t call them recommendations in the traditional sense because I don’t think you need any of this stuff, you’re almost certainly fine with whatever you’ve already got on hand, and when that’s not the case there are usually other options (cheap, free, more expensive but higher quality and longer lasting, refurbished/used, etc).
This is incomplete and I’ll update the list over time. And I’ll add links when I’ve written a longer post about something contained herein.
Also: the links below will be affiliate links whenever they’re available, which (if you use them) will usually provide me a small percentage of the seller’s profits on any purchases you make after clicking-through (so it won’t cost you more, but it will provide me with some kind of compensation in some cases). Buy elsewhere if you like, support this publication in other ways if you prefer, but be aware that’s what’s happening and make your choices accordingly.
My fancy mic that I use for most of my podcasts and other recording work while at home. Travels pretty well (built like a tank), but a little big, so I generally keep it at home, plugged into my Focusrite interface. Great at rejecting background noise and plosives, low sound floor, doesn’t have the proximity effect that can make close-up recording a tricky prospect with other large-diaphragm mics. An investment I’m happy I made (it’s often compared to the Shure SM7b, and both are great, but for my purposes I prefer the truer sound, proximity effect-tempering, and long-time broadcast industry reputation for sturdiness and reliability of the RE20).
A prosumer-grade audio interface that has a couple of connections (two mics, a mic and an instrument, etc), all the right outputs, and several useful knobs (rather than those increasingly common but often cursed touch-sensitive interfaces) that make recording and getting your audio into your computer a pleasure. It also has solid preamps (allows your mics to record at a decent volume, basically), is available at a reasonable price (even better if you find a refurb or older model—mine is a years-old second generation and I’ve never had a problem with it), and the company has a good reputation in this space.
Nothing fancy here: just utilitarian monitor headphones (no adjustments to the raw sound, so you can hear what needs tweaking) that you’ll find in studios and audio-education classes around the world. Solidly build (though I once had the padding on a previous pair I owned tear while in transit), easy to use, pretty well known as a default option for this type of product, reasonable price for what you get (similar in many ways to the Shure SM58 microphone, which is the “vanilla” option performance mic…these are the vanilla monitor headphones).
This is my current travel mic, though I may replace it with a Shure SM58 in the near-future. On the pros side, this thing sounds pretty good (not as good as the RE20, but it’s also sold at ~$60 compared to ~$500), has both XLR and USB connectors, and is small and rugged enough that I can toss it in a bag without worrying it’ll be damaged (or overly concerned about replacing it if it is). The main downside is that it has terrible handling noise (if you hold it rather than using it in a mount, you can hear that handling in the audio) which limits utility, and I also find I use the USB a lot less these days, instead using my Zoom portable interface (a little more cumbersome because that also requires carrying around a thick XLR cable, but the improved sound quality when using XLR versus USB is worth the effort and bag-space for me). So quite good, often available at about half the price of an SM58, and if you’re not planning on holding it in your hands when using it, a versatile and surprisingly nice-sounding option.
I finally broke down and splurged on the H6 after owning (and loving) the H4n for years (since high school, actually). These little portable recorders are built like bricks and stunningly versatile, allowing you to do field recording or interviews with the built-in mic (they try to get you to buy a bunch of different swappable mic heads with the newer models—you probably don’t need any of those) or plug in other mics and recording equipment via the array of XLR cables (the H4 had two of them, the H6 has four, with the possibility of replacing the built-in mic with an adapter that allows for two more, and the H8, which looks like a robot bug that mated with a hand-grenade, has six, with additional expansion capacity beyond that). You can also plug it into your computer to use it as a portable audio interface (a replacement for the aforementioned Focusrite, but much smaller) and you can plug it into a wall, run it on batteries, and record straight onto an SD card. This thing has delightful knobs and buttons and a charmingly (to me) old-school clickable-wheel-and-visual-interface system that works pretty well and doesn’t rely on any fiddly touchscreen controls. You’ll probably need an additional preamp (like the Klark and Triton ones I mention below) if you want to run a fancy mic on this (the preamps are good, but not as powerful as those contained in an at-home interface like the Focusrite), but it works with smaller mics (like the Q2U and SM58) great, as is (it works with the RE20 out of the box, as well, but adding a preamp allows for better ultimate audio quality).
These in-line preamps basically give you more “room” to play with when editing audio, and that’s important for power-hungry, fancypants mics like the RE20 (and any other high-end mic you might want to use). Higher-end, prosumer options in this space are made by Cloudlifter, but the Triton is comparable in most ways for about half the price, and the Klark is a less-potent but even cheaper version of the same. I use the former with my at-home RE20 and Focusrite setup, and the latter with my portable Q2U and H6 setup.
I usually buy my laptops refurbished from Apple and replace them every four or five years. I bought my current MBP at the end of 2021 to replace my 2017 model, and it was a massive upgrade—the M1 (and onward) chips that Apple designed themselves have made a huge difference in power and efficiency, and the 14-incher is a nice combination of capability and portability. Apple isn’t without its flaws as a company, and you’ll get the most from their setup if you also have an iPhone, iPad, etc. Also worth noting is that although there are more games available on Macs than in prior years, these machines aren’t optimized for that, and many, many games are Windows-only. That said, as a primary, creation-oriented machine, this thing is my go-to, and the refurbished options straight from Apple have always saved me at least a few hundred dollars while still seeming brand-new. Also: Apple Care has typically been a good investment for me, but some credit cards (if you use them to purchase electronics) will provide some kind of insurance, as well, so you might check on that before making the additional investment.
I’m at the stage of my life where I had to check the “About” section of my phone to remember what generation it is. That’s a good thing, I think, as it demonstrates something about the iPhone line in particular (though to a lesser degree for other smartphone standard lines, like the Pixel and Samsung phones, as well): they’re sufficiently generic at this point that if you buy a new model that uses a familiar operating/eco-system, you’ll be good. The upgrades will tend to be iterative, not revolutionary, and the sexiness of the device will depend almost entirely on how much corporate (and tech news) marketing you’ve consumed. All of which is to say, this is a good phone with nice cameras and there isn’t anything I want it to do that it doesn’t do. It’s also a few generations old, already paid for, and likely to last a while longer (I may splurge on the newest, whizbang offering when I buy a new one, but I could probably also snag a newer, but not most-recent-generation model and be just as happy). Do with this info what you will, and keep in mind that there are a lot of used and refurbed iPhones available pretty much everywhere these days, and they’re largely (for most people and most use-cases) interchangeable.
This will sound nit-picky, but I’m not a big fan of outwardly displayed logos, and that’s especially true on my phone (I don’t like it philosophically, but I also don’t like that it could serve as a big banner saying “please rob me, my phone is worth something” in some contexts). Thus, I typically buy a cheap, non-flashy, thin black case for my phone—and never from Apple, which slathers their logo even on their cases. This one works great, costs not much, and still lets the iPhone magnetic charging thing work. (Worth noting: the brand isn’t important, and you can usually find these inexpensive, Chinese-made cases from a slew of different made-up-sounding brands on Amazon).
I hate that I’ve become the kind of person who owns this many Apple devices, but here we are. I went back and forth on this purchase for a while, and waited and waited until a used, good-condition, previous-generation model (but new enough that it had the features I wanted at a price I could justify) showed up on Facebook Marketplace, and it eventually did. This ended up being a great choice as I primarily wanted an iPad for reading purposes, to bridge the gap between my computer, my Kindle, and my phone (reading long-form fiction books and textbooks is not pleasant, to me, on any of those other devices). This is the “standard” type of iPad, not one of the Pros (which seem oriented toward replacing one’s laptop) and not a snazzy Air model (or too-small-for-my-purposes Mini). It’s a 9th generation, works great for reading books away from my desk, and cost me very little. One of my better recent purchases (especially considering how long I hemmed and hawed over getting one, and how little I paid for it).
I strongly suspect that at some point Amazon will figure out a way to ruin their traditional e-paper Kindle devices, but at the moment I’m still able to enjoy the no-frills, just-works hardware and works-well-enough software ecosystem this e-reader uses. Worth noting: I side-load most of what I read on this device, which means I upload books acquired elsewhere (non-Amazon services, the library, etc) using plug-ins and the free Send to Kindle app, and that works great for me (though it also implies I could probably easily switch to another tablet if I needed to, since my e-library isn’t locked into Amazon’s store). Also: my Kindle is a few generations old and ad-supported (I don’t notice the screensaver ads, so the paid no-ad upgrade isn’t worth it for me). Overall, just a pleasant to use (especially at night with the light setting at 3 or 4), well-built piece of hardware with a long battery life (I use it daily and charge it maybe once every month or two).
Ravpower was kicked off Amazon for breaking their rules, and you can still access them via the brand’s website but I would generally suggest looking for their rebranded products (which is what I’ve linked to above) as they’re the same thing, but available a bit cheaper (and via marketplaces like Amazon). That said, a 20k powerbank is enough to recharge my devices several times before I need to refill them, and the 60w output means I can use the USB-C port to charge everything, including my laptop (if a little more slowly than usual). There are 80w options out there these days (and greater), and if you can get one of those instead (at a decent price and small enough form-factor), that would be an even better option. I love this device, though, because it’s packable, has USB-C and USB-A ports—which means I can charge all my things with it—and has enough juice (and charge-speed for utilizing that juice) that I can plug my laptop in while traveling and it serves the same purpose as plugging into a wall outlet. (Please note that there’s a hard-cap on the size of portable lithium-ion battery you can take on planes, which in the US currently tops out at 100Wh unless you have prior approval; that’ll generally mean staying under 27,000mAh).
Health & Wellness
The Ordinary is a brand that sells all sorts of skincare and skincare-adjacent products at a reasonable price, but with fairly high-end components. They’re also great for someone like me who doesn’t want to worry overmuch about this aspect of my life, but would prefer to know that I’m using something halfway decent (but still affordable). Case in point is this face lotion, which is the first face lotion I’ve bought and have continued to use for years, as it’s simple, not laden with extra ingredients, and works great (I apply a thin layer any time I wash my face).
These two brands of skin cleanser seem interchangeable to me, and I generally buy whichever one is cheapest when I need to get a new bottle. Both brands also have different variations meant for different skin types (I tend to get the moisturizing kind in the winter, and the harder-core kind in the summer), but both brands last a long time and keep my face-washing routine fast and simple, which is nice.
This will be relevant to almost no one, but I want to mention it here because it’s one of my favorite recent discoveries. A few years back I started suffering from bruxism (jaw muscles clenching at night), which can cause an array of problems like headaches, sore neck muscles, bad TMJ, sore or even cracked teeth, and other such things. I’ve tried pretty much everything to ameliorate this issue (an expensive acrylic mouthguard has helped prevent tooth damage, but hasn’t helped with TMJ and muscle soreness), but I finally tried this specific version of magnesium (after previously trying tablets and powders of the same), and the difference has been night and day. The bruxism isn’t 100% gone, but the tooth soreness and TMJ issues went almost entirely away within a few days. My understanding is that this type of magnesium (glysinate) is ideal for muscle relaxing and sleeping purposes, while others are more optimal for helping with constipation, so keep that in mind (those other types are almost always cheaper, though this one is priced fairly reasonably compared to other brands), and I suspect my earlier efforts with magnesium glysinate didn’t stick because the tablets are huge (and I wasn’t able to consistently swallow them as a consequence) and the powder tastes horrible (and doesn’t blend well with even hot water, meaning a lot of it is left at the bottom of your cup when you’re done drinking whatever you mixed it into for consumption). No idea if anyone else will have the same positive results I have with this, but it could be worth a shot if you fit the aforementioned criteria.
This is one of the cheapest (if not the cheapest) start to an at-home Sonos setup (there’s still a speaker network lock-in effect to this purchase, though, so keep that in mind), and I like that I can quickly get more volume and roundness of sound from whatever I’m listening to on my phone using this simple little device. I have the first generation model (there’s a newer version out, plus a bunch of lamps and picture frames with something similar built into them—I’m not crazy about the look of those) and it’s still serving me well, sounds good (I’m not an audiophile though, so your mileage may vary), looks nice on my main work desk, and cost me less than $100. I’m keeping my eyes out for a used one so I can add another to the wireless network and get a stereo-vibe going.
If you need to absolutely pulverize something (or want the ensure you have the ability to do so) this is a good blender to have on hand. You almost certainly don’t need this much power, and for most people a ~$20 or ~$40 option will make far more sense. If you’re going hardcore with your soups and stews, want to regularly obliterate yourself a smoothie, or are just keen to invest in a machine that will outlive us all, one of the non-touchscreen (button- and dial-covered) Vitamix models are worth a look.
I tried to do the standing-desk thing several times before it finally stuck, and what helped me integrate it into my day was the purchase of this standing mat, which was a little pricey (you can find far cheaper, probably just as or almost as good ones) but is really comfy and provides enough “foot-interest” that my feet don’t get bored (which is apparently part of what makes standing for long periods unattainable for some?). This is probably a lot less necessary, too, if you’ve got carpet or something soft near your standing desk setup (I’m on faux hardwood, which is not great for long-period standing).
This is one of those basic little products that is strangely difficult to do well—I’ve tried several other brands over the years and none have stood the test of time (and worked thoughtlessly well) like the bare-bones version of Lasko’s electric space heater. They have fancier options, and none seem to have the “just works, and forever” reputation that this one does. Also: I once (in more than two decades of owning these) had the fan that disperses air go out on one of these heaters, so I contacted the company and they immediately sent me a replacement. (I personally like the darker color version a little better, but the generic “light gray” one is strangely “ugly pretty” or “utilitarian cute” in the sense that it won’t coordinate with anything else in your home, and that ends up being kind of okay).
Big caveat up front: I’m not a coffee connoisseur, so although I’ve dabbled in being coffee-fancy, I eventually reached my ceiling and realized that the ritual of coffee-making and coffee-consuming is as (or more) important to me as the coffee itself. Most of the time, that means I wake up, do a little exercise, then make a cup of coffee (there will be two most mornings, and they’re almost always consumed before 10am, though noon is my hard-limit on caffeine-consumption these days). I hand-grind the beans, pop them into my Aeropress (I use the inverted method, but without all the weighing and worrying implied by the linked guide) and five minutes later, I’ve got a nice cup to sip on while starting my day. For a long while I used a different coffee grinder, which was cheap-ish (~$35) and fine, but the grinding teeth on that one eventually fell out of alignment, so I decided to splurge a little (~$55) and get this new one—it was a great choice. The price has gone up a little, as (last time I checked, anyway) The Wirecutter started recommending it as a top pick, but I would still buy it again at the current ~$65, as it just grinds a lot more smoothly, is built a lot sturdier, and feels a lot better when I use it (I didn’t realize how hard I was working using the other one till I bought this one), which makes a big difference when you’re doing something twice a day, every day.
This little (non-electric) gizmo saves me a lot of time and money that I would otherwise spend on the washer and dryer down in the basement of my apartment building. It’s a plastic barrel about the size of a small keg, and you use the crank on the side to spin-cycle your washables by hand. You then hang-dry (or I suppose use some kind of dryer if you’re feeling ambitious or in a hurry) your garments, reducing wear-and-tear on your clothes, using far less energy, and saving your quarters for the arcade (if you can find quarters in the first place). It’s a ~$60 investment, but it makes my laundry routine less tedious and expensive (if a little more hands-on and, for a few minutes at least, physically arduous).
An inexpensive little all-purpose spatula that does almost everything really well (except flipping pancakes or whatnot, which you might want to get a more focused flipping tool to perform), and which is basically indestructible.
To relax, I like to play strategy games. There’s something about managing a sprawling 4X-based economy that sets my mind at ease. Thus, I’ve played all the Civs, and regularly go back to whichever is the most recent at any given moment (it’s 6, right now). But the Total War series is pretty good, too (the Warhammer-branded version is just really great—I played the tabletop version of the game back in the day, and this is different, but captures the same vibe without the extreme costs and hoarding associated with buying all those little figurines). Stellaris is another one that I go back to regularly: I love the narratives and galaxy-spanning roleplaying it enables, and I like the model of building a great game, then just adding all kinds of new stuff to it (and revising the rules and how things works) for years and years (this is especially appreciated by someone like me who doesn’t own a gaming rig but still likes to play sprawling games that—if optimized to have the most whizbangiest graphics—would blow up my laptop).
I don’t play a lot of fast-twitch casual games, but Vampire Survivors is just stupidly fun, and very reasonably priced (something like $5, but it may be free on your mobile device of choice). I’d recommend using a Bluetooth or USB-controller when playing, whatever device you play it on, and then just enjoy the ridiculousness of carving through waves of arcade monsters with upgradeable weapons that fire in different directions at different cadences, as you try to survive for (a maximum of) 30 minutes. Hades is different than VS and a lot more story-driven (great voice acting and writing), but still has that hack-and-slash, don’t have to take it too seriously component (in large part because you will, as part of the game’s theme, die over and over).
Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic are all great board games to try out if you’ve never ventured beyond Monopoly and Candy Land, but keep hearing about how much people like board games and want to know what all the fuss is about. Fun to play with family and friends, and if you’re new to all this, start with the basic, vanilla versions of these games (there are a lot of variations of varying quality and complexity) and expand outward from there (also: you can check BoardGameGeek to learn about other games you might want to try out, next, and how they all compare).
Anomia is a simple card game that sounds like it couldn’t possibly be challenging or fun when it’s described to you, but which is almost always a blast and very challenging when you play it, and great fun with the right group of people (mostly: those who can laugh at their own fumblings). Coup is a little less frantic and more thoughtful (a variation on the old-school “werewolf” party game), but also a lot of fun at a party because of how little time it takes to play.
Literally Any Escape Room
I know we’re past Peak Escape Room, but I unironically love these things and it’s something my family members and I do together any time we’re in the same zip code. The quality and difficulty vary, as does the narrative, acting, and artistry behind the room you try to escape, but they’re generally fun for the experience of trying to solve puzzles together, even in the (thankfully rare) cases when the puzzles are a little bit bleh.
Software, Services, Apps
I run several websites for myself, and a few others for friends and family. I’ve used a handful of hosting services for these projects over the years, and Hostgator stands out for their ease of use, reliable uptime, and well-regarded customer support (which I’ve used several times: truly top-notch). If you don’t make websites on the regular, much of this won’t matter to you and you can either just snag a Tumblr account for your blog, or opt for one of the other many free options available today. If you’re building a business site (or making a project), my usual recommendation is investing a (relatively) little bit of money to make it official, get your own domain and associated email address, and do the thing. Hostgator has a nice option for this, and you’ll get a discount (and I’ll get a sort of “finder’s fee”) if you opt for one of their options via the above link (I’m happy to give you some getting-started advice if you shoot me an email, too—it’s fun building your own site, and there’s a one-click Wordpress option via that link if you’re keen to take that path). There are quite a few good options out there for easy hosting these days, so shop around, but this is actually a very good deal, and I full-throatedly endorse Hostgator’s services even when I don’t have a financial incentive to do so.
In some ways it’s regrettable that there’s now a decisive, vanilla newsletter distributor on the market, as it’s made the field a lot less innovative in some ways, and the decisions Substack makes (as that vanilla option) influences a whole lot about how the space functions. That said, the fact that there’s now a free (truly free, not freemium) means of starting up a newsletter (alongside a free website and podcast, if you so choose) is pretty remarkable, considering to how things used to work. It’s worth looking into other options for one’s website (the freebie Wordpress.org option in particular), but there isn’t really another pretty-good-at-all-the-things-if-not-perfect option out there that replicates what Substack offers for newsletters and podcasts.
I’ve only been using this for a few weeks, and it’s still in beta-mode—but I already consider it to be fundamental to part of my daily reading habit. Readwise is a service that allows you to save highlights and notes and then revisit them over time (something I don’t really do, as note-taking isn’t part of my reading or learning process, with rare exceptions). Their Reader app, though, allows you to click a little button in your browser to add highlights and notes to anything on the web (including YouTube transcriptions), pull the stuff you’re marking up into the reader for a more pleasant (to me, anyway) reading experience, and to load-up PDFs and EPUBs ( books, reports, science papers, slideshows, etc) into that same apps for highlight-able, note-taking-able reading. I love that I can click (or tap, on my iPad) a paragraph in a book or article I’m reading to auto-save it to my highlights, then go back through those highlights later to add notes (which I sometimes then publish in Aspiring Generalist). There are still things to complain about, but I happily pay the $8/month for the functionality it’s already got, and I hope they’ll keep iterating it in a positive direction.
I went to school for design, so when I do real-deal design work, I’ll sometimes utilize the power-user tools Adobe is known for in their Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign apps. That said, I’ve been wanting to get more use out of the Affinity suite (Designer, Photo, and Publisher, which aim to replace Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, respectively) as I like the company that makes the apps, I like that they still have a “pay once, own the software” model that isn’t as common in this space anymore, and some casual use of the apps (I bought the first generation, too) showed they had a lot of potential. When they released version two of these apps, I gladly paid again to own the upgraded trio, and committed to learning the idiosyncrasies of the UI—though there aren’t many, and they mostly replicate all but the most powerful, AI-oriented Adobe app tools. Which is nice! Doing the math, I save money by not having a subscription to Photoshop and Illustrator most of the time, and I can always snag a month of one or the other if I need one of their higher-end tools that Affinity hasn’t copied yet. In the meantime, though, I really like the more streamlined, re-thought interface of these products (including their iPad apps, which I think are a bit better in some ways that the Adobe alternatives), and I sincerely hope they expand in the future, replacing the one Adobe app I haven’t yet been able to replace (and thus pay a fair bit for each month): Audition.
Adobe Audition is a truly powerful app, really intuitive once you get a sense of how everything fits together (and if you’re familiar with other Adobe apps, this one fits right in, with similar UI decisions and other such conventions), and it’s how I record and produce all my podcasts. I would love to replace this, but I haven’t found something I like better yet: I love the idea of Hindenberg, but don’t like their interface as much as Audition (though I do like that you can buy the software outright, for a one-time payment) and I’m bullish on Descript and will probably attempt to use it for impending video editing tasks. But I’m deep enough into using Audition that when I’ve experimented with switching to other options, I’ve found that the quality I can manage with Audition is better, and it actually takes me less time to produce/edit with Audition, as well (though folks who are less handy with Audition may find otherwise, and if you’re doing interview podcasts or something else that leans heavily on transcripts and/or editing someone else’s voice (making re-recording unclear bits tricky), Descript is worth checking out for the tools and approach to production it offers).
I use Transistor as my “premium podcast” hub, and if I had to switch away from using Anchor and Substack (both of which are free, but also offer other little tidbits that make inserting ads and interfacing with other aspects of my publication chain simpler), I would move everything here. It’s relatively inexpensive for what you get, the people behind it seem like genuinely friendly and helpful people, and the platform just works really well (there are several aspects of it I don’t use because I’ve got my public-facing stuff on those other platforms, but the features they offer for the price they charge makes their service a solid steal compared to most of what’s out there).
There are quite a few products that offer almost identical features as Memberful, but this service stands out for their simple pricing model and relative ease-of-use. In essence, this service allows you to put a paywall on just about anything, and to then say, okay, for $5/month you’ll get access to this podcast, this website, and this newsletter, and for $20/month you’ll get this other one, too. It’s flexible and generally just works (and again: the pricing is simple, which is not the case for many of their competitors), though implementation can requite some fiddling if you’re trying to pull in a bunch of different platforms, and if any of those platforms are not supported out of the box. This is what I use to offer my Understandary memberships (which basically allow folks to get premium/paid versions of all my work, across multiple mediums and platforms, for one monthly or yearly fee).
I do a fair bit of curating for my various projects, and while I once used Hootsuite for my auto-sharing-to-social-media purposes, they eventually changed their business model to focus on big customers with huge marketing budgets, inflating their ground-floor pricing overnight while also offering a slew of tools I don’t need (their service got strangely glitchy by the time I left, as well). Publer does the basic things Hootsuite does without the bloat or inflated pricing, and their service is still growing (and thus, just keeps getting better). It makes my job easier, not having to think about this at all: there’s a little icon in my browser that allows me to share things I like on the web, and they’ve got an app I can use on my phone or iPad to do the same, there. The auto-scheduling feature puts things on a queue (based on settings I specify ahead of time), and there are other power-user features I don’t use, but I suspect they work pretty well, too. And importantly, they offer this at a reasonable price (and they have a free tier if you want to try it out for a while before committing).
I used 1Password as my password vault for a long time, and it’s a good service, though their pricing changes eventually made me look around for alternatives. Thankfully, Bitwarden offers essentially the same service (there are some fancier things 1Password offers that Bitwarden does not, but I never used any of them, personally) for free (it’s Open Source and free for personal use, cheap for business use), including a little icon for your browser that allows you to auto-insert passwords on websites, an app for your phone that ensures you have all your passwords and other information with you when you need it, and similar levels of protection. Having a password vault (whichever one you use) is generally a good idea as it allows you to use strong passwords (rather than easy to remember, weaker ones) for all your logins, while also offering a protected space for software serials, your library card number, etc, and most of them are just generally good—though avoid LastPass, which has a terrible reputation and is regularly hacked (because of how they run their business, not because password vaults overall are flawed or easily hackable).
I read a lot and I love libraries. So Libby, which is an app that interfaces with the (clunkier, uglier) OverDrive digital library system, is great, as it’s an intuitive means of accessing the ebooks and audiobooks your library system offers that works great, looks lovely, and makes the whole process of checking-out and reading/listening to these works simple and enjoyable. It’s also free, and all you need to get started is a library card (and a library that supports it).
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and after trying out a flurry of serviceable options I landed on Overcast which is a fairly opinionated app run by one guy who has implemented a lot of little quality-of-life features that make listening a joy (like the ability to side-load audiobooks) and alleviates a lot of little cumbersome issues other players all seem to have. It’s free to use, though you can pay $10/year to remove ads, which gladly do. iOS only, unfortunately.
I have an old Apple Watch (4th gen, I think) that I only use while working out and while sleeping—the former to track the distance I’ve run or cycled, and the latter to keep tabs on how I’m sleeping night to night, so I can tweak things that might influence my sleep when appropriate, but also to just generally understand why I feel the way I feel each day (drowsy, productive, creative, etc). Autosleep is the app I’ve long used for my sleep-tracking purposes, and it works pretty well: sometimes it’ll track my reading-before-bed period as sleep (something I can adjust the next morning), but it tracks without me having to remember to do anything but put on the watch before I get into bed, which is nice. It also doesn’t do weird stuff with your data, charge a monthly fee, or anything like that.
Simple app that allows you to move the windows on your Mac to different corners, to the left or right 50% of your screen, and other such wizardry. I was very skeptical when I bought this, but it’s changed the way I work for the better, despite blending into the background and becoming essentially a wonderful set of keyboard shortcuts I’ve come to take for granted.
A few years ago I jumped ship from Dropbox and tried out a few cloud storage options before landing on OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s Dropbox clone. I don’t have strong feelings about Microsoft one way or the other, and I haven’t downloaded any of their Office apps (despite having access to them as part of the package you get when you pay for OneDrive storage space). But their cloud offerings are pretty solid, and I haven’t had any complaints about either the service itself or the price, so far. (Pro tip: if you hold out for sales on Newegg and similar sites, you can usually find this for something like $20-30 cheaper, per year, than is offered via the official site).
A tiny little app that allows me to set timers for different tasks. There are clever, more complex ways to use this, but I like it this app because it lives in my laptop’s menu bar and allows me to easily set (for instance) a timer for 20 minutes, after which I’ll stand up and walk around and not look at screens for a bit. Great for delineating periods of intense focus.
Unclutter allows you to set a keyboard shortcut that brings down a little hidden text file-like storage space from the top of your computer screen, where you can store notes and see your clipboard history (stuff you’ve copied) a long while into the past, which is periodically useful (I mostly use it for the easily accessed and hidden notepad, though).
I have a lot of little apps in my Macbook Pro’s menu bar, up along the top right of the screen near the clock, and Dozer is a (free, Open Source) app that allows you to hide all those little icons (except for the ones you want to always be visible) until you click on a little dot to reveal them. It keeps things tidy and I like it a lot.
Sometimes—and increasingly seldom, these days—there’s something I’d like to check out that I can’t get via the library, Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, various app stores, or any other media or tool hub. In such moments, it’s nice to have a torrent tool handy, and this one is pretty good (and available across most major OSes).
I use a few different writing apps for different writing purposes: Scrivener is wonderful for big projects (for me this means books, but you can also manage scripts, courses, whatever) as it’s optimized for organizing and exporting your work in various, useful ways; Simplenote is Open Source and free, doesn’t do too many things, but what it does do it does reliably (I use this for research and note-taking purposes); iA Writer is a little more full-functioned than Simplenote, a lot more beautiful, and is great for writing non-book things. All of these apps are computer-and-mobile compatible, all sync your work between your devices, and all have been well-worth their price tag, to me ($60, free, and $50, respectively).