'Tis the season for retrospectives and "Best of" lists. I used to fart in the general direction of such mawkishness, but age brings with it a fondness for the nostalgiac and a sentimentality not to be suppressed.
I suppose I've reached the aforementioned age, because this is my first ever list-of-things-that-I-deem-notable-in-the-year-which-is-about-to-conclude.
A list without rules is like a flock of sheep without a shephard; meandering, lawless, fetid.
My self-imposed rules for this list are as follows:
- List items must be anatomically digital
- List items must have won me over in 2011
- List items may or may not have been released in 2011
Them's the rules. Let's get started!
I've been a huge iOS fan since day two (I jumped on board with the iPhone 3G). My iOS use is decidedly recreational, so my favorite apps on the platform lean in that direction.
Sure, I can Get Things Done® on my iPhone or iPad, but by the time I've finished working all day on my laptop, I rarely want to.
I suspect that might change as the operating system advances, but for now I'm completely content with this usage pattern. Well, enough blathering on. To the apps!
There are apps, there are good apps, and there are "Man, I wish I wrote that" apps. Instacast falls in the third category. Yes, it's just a podcast client. Yes, iOS has built-in podcast support. Yes, I'm writing a lot of sentences that start with Yes. What's your point? Check out their video:
Instacast is so exquisitely crafted that the app actually makes me want to listen to more podcasts. I could enumerate all the little details that make Instacast a joy to use, but you should really just go buy it and try it for yourself.
Band of the Day
I've always been one of those people who scour the Internet for new music to listen to, but there are often too few hours in the day to keep up. Band of the Day is like having your own personal new music concierge.
As the name implies, each day the app features a new band. The feature includes a biography, review, a few songs to stream for free, discography, et cetera.
Not every band featured strikes my personal chords, but that is to be expected. That being said, even the bands that I don't like are still talented and I think the BoD editors do a great job.
The app has a distinct interface that I don't personally dig, but it has been heralded for that exact reason, so what do I know?
I didn't give Flipboard a fair chance the first time around, but somehow it reeled me back in and landed a huge fan. It is hands down my favorite way to just relax and surf the net. Better than any magazine that I could imagine.
They recently released an iPhone version — which I was skeptical of — and it is great as well.
This app was just kinda cool but I never used it. Then iOS 5 hit and with it Photo Stream. Photo Stream is a step in the right direction, but has a major flaw which Camera+ helps work around. For that it's pretty great.
OS X Apps
I make a living writing software on (and sometimes for) OS X, so the apps below are mostly writing tools.
Sublime Text 2
I'm an old command-line Vim junkie, but when I first switched to a Mac I was wooed by the sexiness and intrigue of TextMate. It delivered on many of its promises, but its lack of updates and mythical version 2.0 (I know, now in Alpha) gave me a bit of wanderlust.
Many competitors came and went, but none of them lived up to — let alone surpassed — TextMate until Sublime Text 2.
ST2 looks great, is compatible with TextMate's bundles, has a great package manager, and best of all: the developer releases almost-monthly builds that keep on improving the editor.
I couldn't be more impressed and excited about this piece of software. It has become my default code editor of choice.
When I'm not coding, I'm often writing notes, blog posts, or documentation. In these cases I prefer to use Markdown because it looks great in both plaintext and HTML format.
I'm not unique in that regard, and many Markdown-specific editors have been cropping up in the Mac software scene these past few years. Of those, iA Writer really stands out.
Much like Instacast makes me want to listen to more podcasts, iA Writer makes me want to write more! It's so simple, and yet so elegant and thoughtful. One example of its thoughtfulness is that it provides not only word and character counts for the current document, but an estimated reading time. Love it.
At first glance, Sparrow looks like a Tweetie (remember Tweetie?) rip-off for email. Okay so it kind of is, but it's a really stinkin' good one!
If you have multiple Gmail accounts and like getting your email out of a browser tab, then you should really give this app a try. It has a million and one little surprises and even supports Gmail-style keyboard shortcuts.
I can't wait for the iOS version...
Nary a day goes by that I don't reach for a Soulver window to perform some calculations. It's like a calculator on steroids. Really, really strong steroids.
Soulver is not a new app and I had heard people singing its praises for awhile, but I finally "got it" this year and it has become an essential tool in my toolbox.
I just got my first Kindle, so I suspect 2012's books section to have a little more meat on its bones than this year's. That being said, one book wowed me in 2011:
Designed for Use
Ignore the Code is one of the most insightful design-related blogs on the Internet, so when I heard that Lukas had published a book I snatched it up immiedately.
He did not disappoint.
Designed for Use is eye-opening, practical, and well organized. It breaks out into three sections: research, design, and implementation. Of these, the section on design really hit home, but the entire book is highly recommended.
The show is basically a venue for John to rail on stuff. That doesn't sound too awesome, but he is so particular, angry, and mostly correct that it's actually quite entertaining.
Hypercritical focuses mostly around Apple and related topics, but John does not discriminate against what or whom he will tear in to. TiVO, George Lucas, and even toaster ovens have all been subject to his wrath.
If you're at all interested, listen to The Wrong Guy, where John rips Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography to shreds. It is hilarious.
The Moth Podcast
Stand out stories include Rare Romance, Well-Done Marriage by Adam Gopnik and Best of Times, Worst of Times by Anthony Griffith (links go to 3rd parties because the originals seem to have been purged).
The Ruby Rogues is a round table discussion show. They aren't afraid to dive head first into deep technical discussions, and I've been able to glean quite a few programming tips from them.
Each episode focuses on a single topic and concludes with each rogue picking 1 or more things they're in to, whether programming related or otherwise.
Pro tip for this show: read the picks in the show notes before listening so you can skip the last 20+ minutes of the show.
Stuff that didn't quite make the list, or didn't fit smoothly into a category: