Abhimat Gautam


← Fun

(or: How you become like Abhimat, via technology!)

I care a huge deal about the software I use. I strongly believe in having and using the right tools for anything that I am serious about, and much of the work that I do is carried out on some sort of computing device. Finding the right tools for what I like to do often comes down to finding the right piece of software for what I want to do. I think that a good piece of software shouldn’t only work well, but should also fit the needs of the user as much as possible. This means that what may work best for me isn’t necessarily the most powerful, but rather something that matches my mental model the best while offering the most possible performance. Here’s a (very thorough) list of some of my favorite software.

My operating system of choice is OS X. I could easily write essays on why I love the Mac, but this is probably not the place for it. Broadly, what I appreciate the most about the Mac (and Apple, too) is its ability to package a great amount of complexity and power into something that feels very intuitive and light. Of course, due to the inherent complexity of an operating system, this does not manifest in all aspects, and there are inevitable flaws and odd decisions that I don’t quite agree with. As a whole though, I have a huge amount of respect for most of the Mac’s principles, and it provides me a very powerful, yet intuitive, work environment.

My browser of choice is Safari, for many of the same reasons as above. It comes down to packing speed in a lean and simple package.

My text editor of choice is TextMate 2. TextMate 2 is currently in beta status, and as community maintained beta software, its future is quite a bit uncertain. However, it is extremely powerful, and what I personally love about it the most is how it scales up in complexity. At first, it just appeared to be a huge text field in a clean window, but as I learned to navigate myself with its powerful features, the software as a whole became indispensable (just see how Find and Replace work, for example). TextMate is simple and clean when I just need to work on something small, but those same simple and clean aspects transform into something powerful when I need to work on something complex. The software is truly very Mac-like.

Almost all my writing is done in plain text, usually in the Markdown format. Plain text is great for its portability, and Markdown hides complex formatting in a simple and very readable format. An example to demonstrate the versatility of Markdown and plain text: I took notes in (non “math-y”) lectures during college using Markdown. I didn’t have to fuss about formatting too much during lecture, but I could convert my work into a nicely formatted and readable set of notes when it came time to study. Because of plain text, I was also able to write a Python script that converted the key terms from the note files into a CSV file that I could convert into flashcards. (Unfortunately, the actual act of studying these terms still requires painful memorization (one reason I wasn’t a biology major), which is not improved by the use of plain text…)

Speaking of Markdown, I use Byword for most of my writing. This includes writing notes, writing blog posts, or writing random thoughts that are bouncing around my head. Byword provides a very clean environment to write while also providing some convenient shortcuts for writing in Markdown. That’s all there is to it, and that’s what makes Byword so great. Byword also has an incredibly useful iOS app, and it is my plain text editor of choice on iOS.

I started using Papers in the summer of 2012 once I started actively reading scientific literature. I place any interesting papers I encounter inside Papers, and then have the ability to take notes on individual papers as I read them and manage/organize my entire library easily. It is endlessly valuable to be able to go back and precisely locate where I read about some interesting research. Although I am not yet producing a lot scientific work myself right now, Papers is also tremendously useful in that front as well: especially with its BibTeX export and Citations feature. They have also recently released a much more capable iOS application, much appreciated since reading papers on an iPad tends to be much more comfortable and convenient than on a laptop. The iOS app, though, is still a bit wonky in at least a few places…

I use Instapaper to help me read online articles. Instapaper is a read-later application (and I believe the original read-later application), meaning that as I am in “foraging” mode while surfing the web, I can place long and interesting articles into my Instapaper Read Later list. Later, when I’m in a reading mode, I can go through all those interesting articles at my own pace. It has easily become one of my most used applications. It allows using those times I wait in line or otherwise wasting time much more productively by reading something interesting.

I like to use Day One for journaling. Day One can capture and store tons of data in an organized journal. This can be useful for a wide variety of purposes, but my main use for it has been to write an entry for nearly every day detailing the most important things I did (or did not do) that day. It is very valuable to step back in time and see exactly what was going on on a certain day in my personal history. Besides daily entries, I also like to store notable photos from adventures and/or occasional important private ramblings. I like Day One because it is one of the few, yet important, apps I use that helps me deal with feels (Really. I have a very important tag for entries in Day One titled “feels”.).

I like listening to podcasts, and I do so through Overcast. It is primarily an iPhone application, and a deceptively simple application. I most love its Smart Speed and Playlist organization features, both of which help me get through my favorite shows quickly and efficiently. It is definitely worth checking out if you too love podcasts.

As an amateur designer, I really love Pixelmator and Affinity Designer. Both are extremely powerful and well designed applications for design work. What makes them especially notable is that they’re both very capable competitors from indie Mac developers to the standard Adobe applications, available at extremely affordable prices.