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Gear & gadget reviews iOS & Mac reviews Reviews

these are a few (more) of my favourite things

Who doesn’t love using cool stuff to make their day to day survival more pleasing and less hassle? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ll trawl the interwebz looking for cool stuff to buy or install, in the name of streamlining or at least aesthetically enhancing my workflow or daily routine, or just because its… well, cool.

Here’s a list of cool stuff I use at the moment, none of which falls under any particular category. Consider it more of a Buffet of Cool. Fill your plate with as much or as little as you like and do feel free to pitch in with some of your own Discoveries of Cool.

Dropbox

I went on and on about Dropbox recently. It’s just awesome and the free version will probably be more than enough for you. Basically, you install their software and a special folder on every computer you want to use and whatever you put in the folder on one computer appears in the same folder on all the other computers in seconds (usually).

I used to use it for simple things like keeping callsheets available on every computer, even my iPhone, no matter where I was, but then I realised I could use it to sync my website code documents, 1Password keychain, Things to-do databases, even my Safari bookmarks. It’s absolutely fantastic. I can be editing my website on my iMac at home, grab my MBP, head out the door to work, then pick up where I left off on the laptop in my lunch break (provided it was able to connect to a network at some point to download the latest files in the background). When I get home, I can go back to using the iMac, without having to manually sync a single kilobyte of data.

It’s a total game changer, for me anyway. Try it, it’s completely free, and if you use my link we’ll both get a bit of extra space on top of the 2GB they start you off with.

Just Mobile Gum Battery for iPhones

Yep, the iPhone battery runs out pretty quick. I can’t argue with that. I would point out that of course it’s going to run out quick if you spend hours playing music and games on it and surfing the web and taking photos and running app and touching the screen and everything else the all iPhone users are understandably addicted to, and in that sense it’s got about the same lifespan as a laptop being used equally heavily, but hey.

So, what to do? Well, while you’re waiting for Apple to find a way to cram a few more hours of use into the thing, you’ll probably want to pick up an external battery pack/charger. There’s loads out there, some that rigidly stick out of the dock connector (which seem to me to be extremely prone to snapping off), some that are built into the back of a case the iPhone fits into and make the phone another half centimetre thicker. I plumped for the Just Mobile Gum which cost about £25 from eBuyer a few months ago. You charge it up, connect it to your iPhone using a standard iPhone/iPod USB-to-dock connector cable, and it can fully recharge your iPhone 1.5 times. So with this in my bag I’ve easily got enough juice to last a full day and then some. I suppose it’s not that pretty but at least it won’t snap off in my pocket.

Photo Mechanic

I came across Photo Mechanic while peering over the shoulder of a unit stills photographer on the set of Spooks. I’d been using Bridge to view and manage libraries of my photos from shoots, because that was all I knew about having just got to grips with Photoshop. However, I’d been unhappy with the way Bridge read my RAW files, as it seemed to apply a base set of RAW adjustments to the images which altered them from the way they looked on the back of my camera, and I couldn’t settle on revised base settings that matched the look I wanted. It seemed totally wrong to me that the software should apply any changes. I’m sure this has probably all changed now*, but I don’t think I’d move away from Photo Mechanic now.

It’s not cheap, but it’s my first port of call for everything after a shoot: ingesting from a CF card, renaming, applying IPTC stationary and copyright information, reviewing, colour and star-tagging, sorting, sending to pertinent photo-editing applications based on file-type, even exporting to a variety of web-ready galleries including the rather cool Flash-based galleries by Airtight such as Simple Viewer and Postcard Viewer. My preference at the moment is for the PM Classic gallery, a contact-sheet style HTML-based gallery that has the advantage of playing nice on iPhones.

* UPDATE: It hasn’t changed at all. I just gave Bridge CS4 a whirl (I’d not launched it once since installing alongside Photoshop CS4) and while it does have a very slick interface these days, with loads of filtering, organising, viewing and customising options, it also applies Adobe Camera Raw defaults to your RAW photos in the viewer, meaning that the custom Picture Control settings I set up on my Nikon D700 are rendered pointless. For this simple reason, Bridge is next to useless for me. Long live Photo Mechanic! (and Nikon Capture NX2…)

Crumpler bags

Why do the women get to have all the fun with bags? It’s a true fact that the more bags you own, the more of a Man Geek you are. I own four and they’re all Crumplers. I’d say they aren’t built with the photojournalist in mind really, unlike, say, a brand like Think Tank or Lowepro, but I was after something that was comfortable, stylish enough to not scream “Photographer carrying loads of expensive gear!” but sturdy enough to look after a body or two, a few lenses and my laptop and plenty of accessories (depending on the size you go for – tip: try to see them for yourself in a shop, or order the next size up!). Moreover, they’re very comfortable to wear – the backpacks in particular are great, with a groove in the padding on the back so it always sits well over your spine. I love details like that 🙂

They change the particularly quirky names of their bags quite often as they introduce new designs that are usually subtly updated versions of last year’s. While that makes for a frustrating experience trying to find the bag someone recommended to you last year and has since been rebranded, they tend to stay much the same overall and you can also pick up some bargains online when retailers offload their renamed stock.

1Password

1Password is really nicely designed Mac and iPhone software that remembers all your online passwords for you – I didn’t think I had much need for this as there’s plugins for most browsers that do a similar thing but after a year of using it I’d find surfing the web considerably less slick without it.

It’s standalone software, but once installed it inserts a button into the chrome of your preferred browser (I only really use Safari or Firefox and those are supported) and whenever you’re on a page with a login field and you have those details saved in the application, clicking the 1P button will automatically fill and submit them once you enter the master password. Alternatively if you enter login information on a page it doesn’t recognise it offers to save that info for you. Therefore you only ever have to learn one password… geddit?

(Oh, and combined with Dropbox I never have to think about passwords no matter what computer I’m on!)

Graph Paper Press

See the cool template this site is running? That’s a modified version of Modularity, by Graph Paper Press (and that’s my affiliate link!). Put simply, they make damn good looking themes for WordPress, designed with photographers, film-makers and other media-based bloggers in mind, and are highly customisable from the WordPress Admin page, so you wouldn’t even have to touch an HTML/CSS/PHP editor.

There’s a selection of themes available for free, or you can sign up for a quarterly or yearly subscription which gives you a lifetime license to use the premium themes, and access to their superb support forum for as long as your sub lasts. I consider myself to be a competent amateur hacking CSS and HTML around but WordPress and PHP is a different world, and every single question I’ve posted in the forum has been completely resolved by their team within 48 hours. That’s impressive!

If you fancy getting a sub, sign up for their newsletter first as there’s often a discount code available.

Rivet

This is one of those pieces of software that just sits quietly in the background and gets on with it’s job, which is serving media files from the iMac to my Xbox 360 (I think it does the PS3 as well). I was using Connect360 but it just started getting weird with me; it kept telling me there was an update which I already had, and sometimes the control panel completely failed to start if there’d been a network disconnection.

So I tried Rivet and found it a smoother experience. For one thing it deals with folders well so I can have a more organised library view on the 360, and it also displays a thumbnail next to each file. Plus it seems to catalogue my drive quicker, which is nice.

AppZapper & Hazel

Two bits of Mac software that do exactly the same thing: help out with deleting stuff you don’t want any more.


AppZapper is brilliant: at it’s most basic you launch it, then drag your evictee application into it’s dropzone. It magically identifies all the pesky preferences, libraries and other support files and asks if you want to delete them all, then zaps them with a supercool sound effect. However, flip a switch in the top right and it changes to a filter based system that analyses your applications, widgets, preference panes and plugins for the potential to be deleted based on user-created rules.

Hazel is one of those background ‘always on’ applications. It does a whole bunch of things as well as sweeping for application support files. You can tell it to listen to certain folders and then apply housekeeping rules to the contents automatically, such as moving downloaded music files to Music, or delete all duplicate and incomplete downloads after a certain time, and there’s a whole set of rules applicable to the Trash can.

So why do I have both? Well, Hazel does all the hard work but Appzapper is pretty fun to use and it’s got a cool icon. Plus the irony of uninstalling the coolest uninstaller I ever saw would be unbearable.

Coda & Transmit

I love the Panic software company. They’re one of those small homely sorts of companies with a commitment to their products and an attention to detail that gives you a warm glow after giving up on some bloated frustrating corporate software mess. Not that this really happens much on a Mac, but perhaps that’s what they best embody: great Mac developers.


Transmit is my FTP app of choice. I like the layout of the windows and the user interface, there’s plenty of customisation available in the Preferences, and it does the job. I mainly use it to upload PhotoMechanic-exported galleries, that sort of thing. Coda is what I graduated to coding my websites with after starting out using a combination of BBEdit and CSSEdit. Looking at those two applications now I daresay you can do much of what I do in Coda using just one or other of them, but a couple of years ago you had to use both, and moving to Coda consolidated it all in one easy to use piece of software – it even automatically uploads updated files to their correct place on the server, eliminating the need for firing up Transmit. You can probably tell from the way I talk about Coda that I’m not a power user and I know I’m not pushing it nearly as hard as it wants to be pushed, but I’m just a sucker for the Panic stuff.

They make cool t-shirts too. I’ve got a Mac spinner shirt I wear at least twice a week.

Things

Things is a task-management application. There’s a version for both the iPhone and OSX. The two versions sync with each other over WiFi but are also designed to work great as standalone applications. I love it for just helping to sort out the individual stages within a large project, and also just noting unique unrelated things I need to do. It’s got a beautiful interface and you can get pretty detailed with your tasks, setting tags to filter related types of task together, adding notes and a due date, even syncing them to iCal.

I must admit I’m not exactly a power user – mind you, there are ‘Getting Things Done’ applications that have way more granular control than Things, such as Omnifocus, but Things has it just right for my level, with room to get more detailed if I want it. Ultimately, the real pleasure comes from the way it’s been designed, visually appealing and intuitive, and anything that helps soothe the frustration of having a bunch of niggling disorganised chores weighing my brain down is worth my money.

Well, that’s all folks. A bunch of stuff I use almost every day that I couldn’t live without now. Hopefully you’ll find something here you like and want to pay for, and if there’s some cool stuff that you think I’d like to know about, feel free to chip in.

Thanks for reading!

By Owen

I'm a Glasgow-born stills photographer and camera operator living and working in London, UK. As well as cameras I'm into writing, gaming, general geekery and beers by Brew Dog.

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