Things I Use - 2020

This is a list of things I use at the start of 2020. It's not completely canonical, but it's good enough. The idea is to track how things change from year to year.

Anything with a (£) is something I'm paying money for. Otherwise, assume it's free, or I'm on a free tier.


News should be about learning, not outrage - so some of these could also appear in Research/Learning below.

Ars Technica (£)

Ars Technica is a long-standing technical news site. I've been reading it since it was doing deep dives on the then-new PowerPC chips, and I subscribe because the kind of journalism they do takes money to fund. (£)

Linux Weekly News covers the Linux world in depth. Some articles are just reviews of new open source software, some are deep dives into areas like the scheduler, complete with source snippets. I've learned a lot about general computing from it, and subscribe to keep this kind of excellent reporting going.

The Guardian

A long time ago I read things via three sites if I wanted all viewpoints. I still do that, but the Telegraph has retreated behind an aggressive paywall,and the Independent has gone full link-bait. The Guardian seems to be the least worst choice, and I'm considering subscribing this year...

Newsblur (£)

I still make heavy use of RSS, and Newsblur is the best way to do that. From Boing Boing to new books on O'Reilly, from Techdirt to Two Lumps - I have lots of feeds, and Newsblur allows me to skim them and just read what interests me.


I'm not naturally organised, and put most of my efforts in organising things into my work life - when I get home I have far less energy for it. These tools help.

Remember The Milk (£)

A good to-do list is useless if you can’t access it. So this is one of those times that the cloud is a good choice. Remember The Milk has an excellent web app, with equally good apps for Android and iOS. You can tag tasks, add locations, start dates, due dates, postpone tasks and have subtasks. You can also set up complex searches which act as handy filters. There’s even a geolocation feature which allows you to assign tasks to physical places! If I’m disorganised, it’s not the fault of RTM - it’s my fault for not using it enough! (I pay for RTM to guilt myself into being more organised.)


Where Remember The Milk is for task management, Trello is what I use to organise my projects. It excels at this, to the point where I’m considering subscribing. Trello’s adaptability is the key thing - whether it’s organising a project or simply planning a business trip, a Trello board is my go-to for those times when something grows beyond a few tasks...

Pinboard (£)

I read this thing on a website once... now where was it?

I hate losing those useful links. Pinboard is a cheap, easy way to record them. It’s similar to the long-lost Delicious Bookmarking system, and is laser focused on doing just one thing well. Which it manages to do. It also attempts to scrape the bookmarked page, so that the text is never quite lost...


Learning is a lifelong thing - these are the main tools I use.

O’Reilly (£)

O’Reilly publish computing books of their own, but also have the world’s best library of such literature. There’s also a smattering of wider subjects, like photography or accounting. But it’s mostly technical computing books. Recently, there’s been a push towards lots of video courses, which are decent. All content is accessible via a web browser of an app on your phone/tablet, and the app can download books or videos for use offline. O’Reilly is where I go when I need to learn something quickly, and also functions as my reference shelf when I’m at work.

Way back when it was Safari Books Online, I signed up. There was a lifetime 50% discount, and that just made it too valuable not to buy...


JSTOR is an archive of academic papers and publications. It’s invaluable for some research, and there’s lots of decent stuff in there. You get ten article downloads (to keep forever as PDFs!) a month, and I tend to subscribe for a month, grab a load of papers, then spend the next couple of months reading and absorbing what I downloaded. Then I repeat the cycle...

National Library of Scotland Maps

The National Library of Scotland has digitised a lot of old Ordnance Survey maps. Quite why it’s down to the National Library of Scotland to do this is a mystery to me - these maps are our heritage, and can be invaluable in showing us our history. This should be something the government of the UK should be doing, for the benefit of everyone. When I’m doing research I often find myself looking at the maps to add some context, plus I’m something of a cartophile anyway.

Amazon Kindle (£)

There are free books on the Kindle platform, but most of what's in my library is paid for... Most of my fiction library is bought on some kind of special offer, but I have some surprisingly expensive reference books that were available via Kindle.

Google Play Books (£)

Due to the vagaries of licencing, some things weren’t available on Kindle. But Google Play books is surprisingly pleasant - just as good as Kindle, perhaps a little better for reading and (unsurprisingly) searching.


I run three times a week, but like to vary the time and route.

Google Fit

Is my step counting and general activity monitor. It’s pretty good considering it’s free. It also aggregates other health data, if I want it to.

Runkeeper (£)

Has been logging my runs for me for years now. It’s simple and does what I expect, without fuss.

Zombies, Run! (£)

Sometimes I don’t want to just listen to podcasts on my runs. Zombies, Run! Has a multi-season story which has kept me entertained for years now, plus various side missions and other stories. If you don’t want to run, I recommend it.

Sleep as Android (£)

I started sleep tracking a few years ago to encourage better sleeping habits - it's worked, and you don't stop health habits that have worked. Stopping health habits that worked is called a "relapse"...


I drink whisky and I know things... (£) sends you 50ml of whisky in a nifty pouch, every month.

For me the value lies in the fact that many of them are things I'd not normally think to get a whole bottle of.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (£)

I've been a member of the Society since 2003, and don't seem likely to be leaving any time soon... Superb whiskies, and a member’s room in which to enjoy them with other enthusiasts. It’s wonderful.


I don't watch much TV, and I listen to less music than I once did. Yet it's still a part of my life...

I need to pick one music streaming service though. Two is a luxury.

Spotify (£)

I like Spotify's social elements and it seems to have the largest and best music library. I dislike the terrible way of getting other music into the service.

Google Play Music (£)

Google Play Music has a decent interface, allows me to upload my older and more obscure music, and has great curated playlists. I just wish the library was as large as Spotify's.

Amazon Prime (£)

Amazon Prime is much more than entertainment, but outside the delivery benefits entertainment is all I use it for. Mostly streaming video - there's a decent and ever changing library of bundled films and TV shows. I don't use it for music.

Google Play Movies and TV (£)

Movies and TV seems to have slightly higher picture quality than Amazon Prime, and you can watch what you've bought anywhere that there's a YouTube app (look under "Purchases"). So if I'm going to buy a film or TV series, I buy it here.


I write things. Not as often as I’d like to, but it happens.

Journey (£)

Journey is a diary application. I don’t always get to use it, but I try to journal so that I have a sense of my own history. We forget too easily...


Writer is a very good tool. Especially for longer documents - the navigation features are superb, some of the formatting options are nice and it’s been very stable.

Google Docs

Docs is useful for drafting and collaborating. Not what I tend to use for final works, but very handy to have.


Lyx is a writing tool that emphasises text and structure over showing you the formatting. Very handy if, say, you’re writing a book. Or something.


I take photos with an old Olympus Four Thirds camera. It’s fun. I also have a huge backlog of photos to process...


Darktable is a very good RAW image processor. I use it not only to process my photos, but also to organise and tag them.

Flickr (£)

Flickr is where I publish my photos. It’s also where I host images for this website (mostly).


All the hardware that’s fit to run my life...

My PC (£)

I have an old tower PC I bought from Scan, with plenty of storage. The main drive is an SSD, the others are rotating rust. The processor is an Intel Core i7-2600K @ 3.40GHz. It has 24Gb of RAM, an Nvidia graphics card pushing two HD monitors, and is something of a ship of theseus. But it still manages. It runs Ubuntu 18.04 with Unity as the desktop environment.

Lenovo Thinkpad Carbon X1 Ultra (£)

You know what they say about Thinkpads. When they finally retire, sell ‘em to the Navy and they’ll strap ‘em to warships as extra armour...

I bought this refurbished, and it’s still going strong. It runs Ubuntu 18.04 with Unity as the desktop environment.

Sony Xperia 1 (£)

A huge smartphone that’s well built, waterproof, and does everything I want. I’m particularly impressed with the battery life, but it does everything I need and more.

Lenovo TAB3 8 (£)

A serviceable Android tablet, which is getting a bit slow now. Also, only having 16Gb of storage is a killer - so I suspect I’ll replace this soon. I mostly use it to watch videos more than anything else.

Ticwatch Series E (£)

A smartwatch that works very nicely. It could do with a little longer battery life, or a little more grunt, but it’s good enough. If something compelling comes along then it’s toast though.


Software makes the world go round these days... These are the things I seem to rely on, but which don’t fit into other categories.


I’ve been using Ubuntu as my primary OS since 2007, and it’s been great. I highly recommend it. It runs reliably, it gets out of my way, and it supports all the hardware and software I want to use.


Even though I’m on Ubuntu, I still use Putty for some things. Old habits die hard.


Partly because it allows me to have consistency across platforms, partly because it’s a damned good browser.

JetBrains IDEs (£)

Pycharm, Rider, GoLand, and more. JetBrains IDEs work very nicely, and are more than worth the money.

Sublime Text 3 (£)

Simply the best text editor that there is.

Pocket Casts (£)

A superb podcast player, providing both entertainment and information aplenty.

Aquamail (£)

The best email client I’ve used on Android. Easily worth the money.

InSync (£)

InSync grabs backups of my Google Drive, because I’m paranoid. It converts the Docs, Sheets and Slides documents to OpenDocument format, and ensures I have a backup of my work “just in case”.


Gotta keep those passwords safe somewhere... I also use Keepass2Android on my phone/tablet.


SpiderOak (£)

SpiderOak is a secure backup system that also does synchronisation between computers, and limited sharing of files. It’s my offsite backup system.

Google Drive

I use Google Drive for the storage and synchronisation of files. It replaced Dropbox for me in 2019.


Portfast (£)

Portfast does my DNS. A nice web interface, and decent pricing.

Bitfolk (£)

Bitfolk hosts my VPS. Superb support and reasonable pricing.


Drupal runs the CMS this website is on. I’ve customised it a bit, but its real value is that it handles all the organisation that I just can’t be bothered with.


I use Rainloop for webmail. It’s a nice interface, and very easy to use.

Things I want

The only thing I’d really like to find in 2020 is a messenger service that everyone uses. I’m sick of switching between SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Hangouts. Sadly, this is more of a people thing than a technology thing, so it’s unlikely to happen.