I Use This Stuff (Mobile, part 2)


Continuing with my post about what I use on my favorite computer (my phone), now we enter the area of boring but useful. I use WeatherBug Elite, because I like to look at data and the stock weather app doesn't have enough information for me. I need maps, radar, pressure. Amazon's app is better than using the mobile website. Flashlight, because I stub my toes. Dragon dictation is good, but I don't use it. Nebulous Notes is a fantastic way to write text and sync it through Dropbox, but again, I don't use it very much because it doesn't fit my writing workflow very well.


For food, I can't say enough about Paprika. It's amazing, I use in on my phone, iPad, and laptop. It's the first thing that's been able to sync my recipes across devices, and grab recipe data easily from standard formats. If you cook, this is the one. Epicurious is good for finding new recipes, but the interface suuuuuuucks. I love Yelp for finding restaurants. Martha's recipe app is pretty good, but it's hard to get the recipes form there into Paprika to keep forever with non-Martha recipes. Yes I call her Martha. Shut up. Seafood Watch because I eat a lot of fish. I never use the Zagat app, it's not as intuitive as the books. Ness is stupid, and I deleted it.

Performing. I use TouchOSC for video performance (like TIA MAK and such), it's about as simple as an external control surface can possibly be, it sends triggers to various apps through Open Sound Control. Sonic Life is similar, but it triggers based on algorithms from Conway's Game of Life. I've not used it in a show yet. The fact that I have GarageBand on my phone melts my brain, I want to travel back in time and show it to high school me. GuitarPro could be good for displaying and organizing guitar tabs, but the method of getting tabs into it unwieldy.


Reading. All my stuff is in iBooks. I have like two Kindle books, I just don't use it. XKCD, obviously, because it's the best web comic out there. I like those two poetry apps because I like poetry.

Reference. I have always carried a copy of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence with me on every handheld device I've ever owned. MyGov tracks every member of Congress and every US Senator, their spending and donors, contractors in their districts, etc. Fun stuff. Your Rights is a nice little ACLU app that reminds you of your rights with respect to law enforcement. US History is fantastic! It's got every major influential document, state of the union, inaugural, and so on from the Magna Carta to present.


Movies. I need IMDB because I can't remember what else any actor has done when I'm looking at their faces. Netflix, because I need to be able to watch Spongebob at any moment. NFB, because every single amazing animation from the National Film Board of Canada is available to watch FOR FREE.

Travel. I use TripIt, it's a good service that keeps track of what I'm doing when I'm out of town. Fly Delta and Flight Track are a little redundant, but I'm anal about flights. Road Ninja sucks. City Transit, Subway Map, and Hop Stop are all to navigate the NYC transit system in different ways. I'm a subway/bus master when I'm in the city.


Finance. Nothing that amazing there, just tracking expenses and paying bills. I keep all my frequent shopper cards in Key Ring.

1 Trick Ponies. I've never actually used Skype on my phone, but you never. I use Shazam once in a blue moon when I'm in a place and need to know what the song is that's playing. I copy receipts with JotNot.

And finally, I keep stuff that I can't or don't want to throw out in Sys/Utils so they don't clutter up the rest of my screens.

And boom, that's my phone. I didn't go into what games I play (I'm simontarr on Words with Friends) because who cares. I'm planning to do one of these for my computer later on. Should amaze my students with how few apps I actually use.


I Use This Stuff (Mobile, part 1)

I'm sick. My brain is not able to do anything that is complex, so while this stupid virus works its way through me, I'll do something simple that I've been planning to do for a while—an update of the stuff I use on my devices. I last did this in 2008, with one post for Mac and one for Windows. Read those for a laugh.

A couple big changes. 1.) I don't use Windows for anything except GameMaker. 2.) I use mobile devices a lot more. 3.) I use a laptop for almost everything that doesn't require 8 Xeons pounding on it. Which is to say, pretty much everything. I mean, when a laptop has a quad core i7 with the same amount of RAM, it's sort of silly (in a good way).


First up, mobile. I have an iPhone 4S, which is officially my favorite computer I've ever owned. I don't care if there are ever flying cars because we have these things now. I have a grandfathered unlimited data plan, which I don't really come close to saturating, but I really like not thinking about my usage, especially when I travel.

I've got screen shots of my various app screens, which I'll go over, and then split the posts as they get too long. I'm sure there are Android versions of most of this stuff, but I don't much care.

My current lock screen is an image of the Bacon Monster from the marvelous Laura Fisk of Fisk and Fern.

We've got bunches of her stuff all over the place. She's awesome.


Here goes. In the dock, I always have these four items, my music library, Safari, a folder with the App Store, Mail, and my settings, and finally OmniFocus. I use OmniFocus to do all my task management, syncing from my laptop to my phone. The best task management app for me, bar none. A little pricey, and a little too complicated, but it is magnificent.

Tweetbot is my twitter app of choice, ever since Twitter wrecked their own app. Yeah yeah, Facebook. Cal, Contacts, Maps, YouTube, all obvious. I use ZipList for grocery shopping, it's pretty great and I can share lists with my wife. Instapaper is, just, well, you have to try it. The service is free, but the app is paid. You use is to save the text of web pages to read later. Sounds dumb, but just try it. Squarespace is what I use to blog from my phone. Evernote (free app, paid account) is what I use as my note taking, idea dumping ground. I listen to quite a few podcasts, and Instacast is what I use to listen to them, since it manages them better than iTunes, and allows you to stream. That Pinboard icon is just a link to, which is what social bookmarking should have been all along. 1Password is a must-have app for desktop and mobile. Words With Friends is only on my front page because if it's not, then I forget to take my turns, even though I'm going to lose anyway (my username is simontarr).


My second page is the camera page. I never use the stock camera app unless I'm using the quick shoot from the lock screen. Camera+ is my go-to image taking app, it's got excellent control and is super-precise. Why use ProCamera, then? It is the Camera+ of video. If I'd known about it first, I'd probably only use that, but it doesn't have a volum-control-as-shutter option. Instagram is marvelous. Incredibooth is stupid but cute and free. 360 is my favorite pano photo app, and you can (imagine!) save the images and look at them elsewhere! Flickr's app sucks, and I'll stop using it when my Flickr account expires and i don't renew it. SketchBook Mobile is my favorite sketching app, but to be honest, I usually just use paper and pen. I don't know why CarMinder is on this page. I bought it to keep track of car service, but I haven't been diligent about it.


Then there's my video folder. 8mm is cute but dumb, I never use it. iMovie is... well... come on. I still can't believe I can edit 1080p video on my phone. Vimeo's app is ok. JJ Abrams' Action Movie makes me giggle every time I use it.

ST'S Setups, Part 2: Windows

So fried, a million other things to do. I know! Another blog post. Durr hurr hurr.

OK, so the Windows side. A couple things first. I hate anyone who writes ‘Micro$oft’. And they can make some really great software when they put their minds to it. I think Vista is quite good and doesn’t deserve nearly the volume of derision it’s received.

Advantages of Windows: You can build whatever the heck computer you want, in any flavor your want, with any other custom stuff and sexy video cards you want, and it will work. The Windows OS hardly ever crashes, and the individual apps crash/hang far less frequently than on a Mac. You can get software for ANYTHING. In ten years, a major OS revision has made some flagship Windows apps not-quite usable twice (XP, Vista), as opposed to seven times on Macs (9, 10.0, .1, .2, .3, .4, .5, and you better believe .6)

Disadvantages of Windows: Holy shit is it butt ugly. Software activation IS evil, and these jerks invented it. There’s no GarageBand equivalent. So very ugly. There’s a lot a pure shit hardware out there, too. Be careful, read up lots, or build it yourself.

The Hardware:
My prior lappy was a Dell Inspiron that is now relegated to Linux. Not bad, and way cheap. Also, a couple of wicked homebrew towers that would be even more wicked if you could run Mac OS on them in a dual boot. No? Pf. All my hardware suggestions from Part 1 apply.

The software (notice how much of it pretty much the same as the Mac version:

  • Before doing anything, go to and do everything he says, in that order, to set up your rig.

  • Adobe Master Collection (until recently much better on Windows. Also, 64-bit Photoshop is CRAZY)

  • Maya 2009

  • Mudbox 2009 (SO good. I’ve heard Z-Brush may be better, but Mudbox is so cheap educationally that I don’t care)

  • Motionbuilder 2009 (part of the Autodesk Consumer Whore package)

  • Milkshape

  • Particle Illusion (Particles, in 2D. Go figure)

  • Firefox (Zotero/Foxmarks/FireFTP)

  • Thunderbird w/Lightning (Outlook? no no no)

  • Camtasia (HATED it. But it was the only decent screencast app.)

  • Office 2007 (much better than Office 2008 for Mac)

  • OneNote (DAMMIT this is a great notetaking app. No cross platform. I guess I’m out. If it doesn’t sync across platforms, then it’s not a good enough app).

  • iTunes/Quicktime/Safari (ugh)

  • IrfanView

  • CCleaner

  • DVDShrink

  • Processing (same as mac)

  • Evernote (same as mac)

  • 7-Zip

  • VLC (same as mac)

  • uTorrent (same as mac)

  • Notepad++

  • Handbrake (same as mac)

  • K-Lite Codec Pack

  • ClamWin

  • Audacity


  • Alcohol 120

  • DeepBurner

  • KeePass (same as mac)

  • TruCrypt (same as mac)

  • Digsby

  • Autoruns

  • Filezilla (sucks on mac)

  • Picasa (oh, if only on mac)

  • Sketchup (same as mac)

  • FoxIt Reader (no, Adobe reader sucks)

  • Windows Live Writer (best blogging client)

  • Resolume (total shite VJ app. Maybe the new cross platform version is better, but I’ll never know)

  • Stuff to mount homebrews on my DS

  • MS Visual Studio with XNA Game Studio Express

Not sexy. Very mundane, actually. Pretty much the same stuff as a Mac, plus 16 million stupid little things you end up needing. And honestly, now that I can run it all on my macs, it like a best of both worlds situation. Now, the best of ALL worlds, would be to be able to use my SICK Frankenputers to run a triple boot. Maybe Snow Leopard will let us, but I’m not holding my breath.

Questions about these, go check Next up, my train wreck of an Ubuntu Studio rig.

ST's Setups, Part 1: The Mac

My view is that you sort of have to be a cross-platform kinda guy to be in the higher-ed/media making biz. If it was just about me doing my own thing, I could get by as either a Mac fanboy or a Windows apologist. Or even an open-source junkie. And I’ve been all three! However, I teach a LOT of students in a given year. Hundreds. Most of them are already invested in one platform or another, and it’s not realistic for me to say “well, just go get a new setup.” My theories on ubiquitous computing and standard platforms are fodder for another post.

Anyhoo, per my students’ request, later in the week I’m doing a day on building a complete open source rig. I’ve also gotten a bunch of requests to reveal the inner workings of my own personal setups. Today, I’ll talk about my Mac setups, then Windows, then Linux.

I was a Mac fanboy for a long time, then I quit and was solely windows for years. I recently going back into using Macs because I have to teach Final Cut Studio though I don’t use it myself.

Advantages of Choosing a Mac:
Mac OS X doesn’t have activation (this is almost reason enough to choose one). Macs run Windows better than almost anything. Superbly designed hardware. Very easy to support.

Disadvantages of Choosing a Mac:
Apple is insidious at segmenting its product line to encourage people to buy a much more expensive computer than they really need. Very laborious to keep running at optimal performance.

The Hardware:
I use a MacBook Pro for most stuff, and a MacPro for production work. The MacPro is a mid-range 8-core Xeon, 8GB RAM. My biggest suggestion on a tower is to go out to Best buy and get a smaller 10,000RPM drive, and install that as your boot drive. The effect this has on the speed of the whole system is astonishing (this is a suggestion for Windows as well). Never get extra RAM from Apple, always go to and install it yourself. MUCH cheaper, and not hard to do. My MacBook Pro is one from early 2008 (not the wacky ones with only FireWire 800). Its got a midrange Core2Duo, 320GB drive and 4GB RAM. Drives and RAM are a scam on Apple laptops, but its such an incredible pain in the ass to replace hard drives on the older ones (this is much improves with the very new ones) I usually just say bite the bullet.

The Software:
The MacPro has the same software as the lappy, but ONLY production software. None of this office and productivity stuff.

  • Adobe Master Collection (Must have. Worth every dime. CS4 FTW.)

  • Final Cut Studio 2 (I don’t use this myself, I just keep it to do video tutorials for students. I actually dislike it.)

  • AppZapper (so. good.)

  • ArCHMock

  • BatChmod

  • Maya 2009 (Must have. )

  • Celtx (Not sure why anyone would pay to use Final Draft)

  • Ecto (Using it right now to write this!)

  • EndNote X2 (Ugh. Sucks, but necessary for citations.)

  • Evernote (Get this now.)

  • FileWrangler (excellent file renamer)

  • Firefox (with Zotero, Foxmarks, and FireFTP plugins)

  • GarageBand (the #1 reason to buy a Mac. So much fun, and the projects open right up in Logic)

  • Goliath (WebDAV implemenation is still iffy on macs. Don’t understand why, but this helps.)

  • KeePass (Almost as awesome as 1password, but this is free and open source)

  • ScreenFlow (Best screencast app I’ve ever used.)

  • SketchUp (Fun!)

  • Split & Concat

  • Handbrake (Go get it now.)

  • jDownloader

  • Logic (You’ll never go back to ProTools.)

  • MacGourmet Deluxe (I use this almost every single day.)

  • Microsoft Office 2008 (Heh. Come on.)

  • Nocturne (good in the car. and in meetings.)

  • iTunes

  • iPhoto (Aperture is a farking DOG. And Lightroom is great, but doesn’t integrate well with the rest of the system)

  • iWork 2008 (Basically, for Keynote. But I like Numbers too.)

  • OmniFocus (I also bought this for my iPod. Until there’s real ToDos and Notes in OSX that actually work with the iPod and MobileMe, this is the one)

  • OmniPlan

  • OmniGraffle

  • Onyx (Critical. This is pretty mucht he only way to keep an OS X system running in top condition)

  • Parallels 4, Running Vista SP1

  • Papers (Amazing. I have hundreds of PDF eBooks, and this really made them sing.)

  • Processing

  • Quicksilver (I never use it, but I feel like I should)

  • Shimo (for using my schools draconian wireless VPN.)

  • Skype (also never use it)

  • Skim (awesome for taking notes on student papers)

  • TextWrangler (I’d love to use TextMate, but I’m not spending money on a plaintext editor)

  • TrueCrypt

  • Toast 9 (shouldn’t really need this, but it ends up coming in very handy)

  • Twitterriffic (best Twitter client EVAR)

  • UnRarX (Meh.)

  • uTorrent (it’s about damn time this came out for Mac)

  • VDMX5 (Finally a VJ app that doesn’t have a fatal flaw.)

  • VLC (Go get it now.)

  • VisualHub (very helpful, esp when used in conjunction with Handbrake)

  • VueScan (never never use the software that came with your scanner)

So. Now go out to and search for them. Comin up next: Windows. Actually very similar to this list.