Gizmos and Gadgetry 2022

This is the time of year when every media source starts rounding up their “best of” lists in an attempt to summarize what was important or noteworthy or new in 2022.

This post is not going to be that kind of post.

My third Wednesday of the month posts are scheduled to be a writing-related topic. This week, I’m going to spend a little time discussing some of the tools and tricks I use either for my writing or in my work as a tech-support assistant for a small software company.

I want to preface this list by noting that I do 99% of my work on a Mac. I have a PC that I use for troubleshooting tech support questions from PC users. I’ve used PCs extensively when working in a library, as a project manager, as a benefits administrator, and in other office jobs.

I personally prefer working on Macs, so my list will lean heavily on programs and tools available for the Mac. When possible, I’ll note if a program or tool has a PC version.

The first item on my list is a software subscription program called Setapp. This one is Mac-specific, and I haven’t found an equivalent for the PC crowd. (Sorry, folks.) {That link is a referral link from my Setapp account, by the way.}

The folks at Setapp have built a stable of 150+ apps that users can access for a monthly subscription. That subscription allows users to install any of the included software to their computer and use them for as long as the subscription is paid. Like many subscription services, Setapp offers users different levels, which are “seats” that can be used by your computer or Apple mobile device.

From my Setapp subscription, I lean heavily on tools like Rocket Typist, Dropzone 4, Paste, and Bartender 4. Rocket Typist is a text snippet tool, similar to Text Expander. Users can create shortcuts from keystrokes or phrases and use those shortcuts to place a large block of text into a document. (Rocket Typist is Mac-only, while Text Expander is available on both the Mac and PC.)

I use Rocket Typist as a way to quickly answer help tickets because I often find that those tickets will have repetitive sections of text that I’m using. For example, if a help ticket comes in with a user saying they’ve recently installed an update and now their software crashes, I’ll need to know their operating system and the version information for their program. Rather than retyping a paragraph for those items, I can write up one version, store it to Rocket Typist, and then use my shortcut to fill that paragraph into my reply each time I need it.

Dropzone 4 is a handy tool that sits in my Mac’s menu bar and makes it easy for me to quickly locate frequently used files. I keep the users manuals for our software products stored in Dropzone so I can open the PDF and review the manual for section references in my replies but without having my PDF reader open all the time.

Paste is a clipboard management program that can save all of the items I’ve copied and pasted throughout my day. What I like about that is it makes locating a user’s license information easier because I can copy their data and then paste it repeatedly into multiple fields as needed.

Paste also gives me a space to save frequently used snippets of text, so I can store links to Apple Support documents or Microsoft Support webpages and reference them as needed for my work.

Those items aren’t something I have placed into Rocket Typist because I use it more for longer-form paragraphs that I use all the time.

I’m a gadget lover from way back. I love wandering places like hardware stores, pen shops, and software websites. The Setapp subscription is always adding more tools, and they regularly send an email with some of their latest options. That’s how I found Bartender 4.

Because I like gadgets, I’m always running new utilities and tools in the background on my Mac. Apple’s menu bar is a great place to see all the programs you’re using, but sometimes it gets so crowded that you can’t find the program you’re looking for. Bartender 4 helps with that.

It allows me to organize my Mac’s menu bar so that programs I regularly have to select and interact with–like Dropzone or Rocket Typist–are always kept visible in the menu bar. Tools like my Time Machine or my wifi connection don’t necessarily need to be visible in the menu bar at all times. Bartender 4 lets me decide which items are always visible. And, I can have it display some app badges only when needed. For example, my Mac’s battery icon is only visible when I’m actually using it on battery power.

Another Setapp program I use a few times a week is the CleanShot X screenshot tool. Sure, the Mac has a built-in screenshot program. And it’s a decent tool. I prefer CleanShot because I like that its screenshot annotation tools give me some additional options for making notations on my images.

Since I often use screenshots to help explain a feature of our software or to point out an item from a user’s screenshot that I think is a factor in the behavior they’re seeing, the more robust tools allow me to provide some better guidance.

Another tool I have that didn’t come from Setapp is my WordCounter app. It simply hangs out in my menu bar all day and tracks my word count in every app I use.

Since I spend a lot of my day writing emails to customers to assist them with tech support questions, it sometimes can be hard to recognize if I’m actually accomplishing anything. Our company’s help queue always has new tickets being added, and it’s sometimes a bit demoralizing to not have a tangible way to measure a day’s productivity.

That’s where my lovely little WordCounter tool comes it. It shows me all the words I’ve written that day. I can see weekly, monthly, and even yearly word count totals. I can see that even on a slow day at work, I’m averaging between 4,000 and 5,000 words written.

On my really busy days or if I’ve been working on just a few help tickets that have complex troubleshooting needs, I can write between 8,000 and 9,000 words. Seeing those ongoing statistics can help me feel less defeated and frustrated on the days when I’ve only handled a few tickets if those tickets have required a lot of in-depth analysis or back-and-forth interaction with the users.

Another tool I’ve just started using and am still trying to figure out how to use it to its best advantage is Obsidian. I’m not really sure how to describe Obsidian. It’s similar to TheBrain in that it’s a note-taking system that allows users to build an interconnected web of notes similar to how our brains actually connect different ideas.

Obsidian is mostly free, with its creators only requiring payment for those using it in a commercial atmosphere. It works on Mac, PC, and Chrome and has a robust Discord community. It also offers the ability to install plug-ins built by its many users, which expand its abilities.

One of the plug-ins I’ve installed allows me to import my Things 3 logs into Obsidian. I have used Things 3 for over a decade, and my entire log of Things 3 to-do lists and notes has migrated with me from one Mac to the next. With the Obsidian plug-in for Things 3, I was able to import my entire Things 3 log into my Obsidian vault.

I did that and then started building tags and connections between each day in that log. I organized them by month and then the months by years. Now that the fiddly work of importing all of my Things 3 data is done and I’ve set up the tags and links, I get this lovely graph of my Obsidian vault, which is 98% made up of my Things 3 logs going back to 2010.

I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to ultimately use Obsidian in my writing or daily life. I’m intrigued by the fact that it supports Markdown, which I keep encountering more and more often in my work. I’m not sure how far into that I want to get, but I have seen that many programs and tools I’m testing either have long supported it or are now adding that ability.

I have a whole Mac full of tools and gadgets, which has prompted Jen to call me a Mac power user. I myself don’t lay claim to that title because I’m not really using macros or AppleScript to automate tasks (yet). But, it’s a direction I’d like to move in the future.

If you have a favorite computer program or must-have tool or gadget, what is it? I’m always interested in hearing about new goodies.

Photo by Elizabeth French on Unsplash

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