Useful Tools, Resources and Other Delights
Here are some tools and other things that make my days better:
Waking Up (app)
This wasn’t the first meditation app I tried, but it’s the one I have stuck with longest (and happily pay for). Strongly secular in feel, the focus is very much on practicing mediatation to as a way of better understanding your mind. There may be no better investment of 10 minutes a day.
Becoming a Supple Leopard (book)
I basically rave about this book to everyone I know. If I were less shy, I’d probably be stopping strangers in the street. If you want to remain active throughout your life, get this book, get a few hard balls, and develop a regular soft-tissue mobilization routine. The second-best investment of 10 minutes a day you can make!
This is a recent discovery, but has rapidly become one of my most-used apps. It’s like having an expert birder by my side at all times, able to resolve all that non-specific hedgerow chirping into distinct characters. Amazing how quickly your ability to recognize bird sounds improves when you can constantly test yourself. Only downside is that all walks and runs now take twice as long.
I don’t need to tell you about this one, do I? Efficient, productive code editing, with a plethora of useful extensions to support whatver tech stack/workflow you use (python, git, docker in our case). Admittedly, I prefer to switch to jupyterlab for exploratory work (though VSCode does have ipython interactive support), but this is my go-to tool as soon as it’s time to productionize.
Ordnance Survey online (mapping)
OS Maps are one of the wonders of the modern world (in my book). An amazing level of detail represented in such a clear, easy-to-process way. I suppose one could argue it take away some of the adventure, but for me they open up the possibilities for exploring new places. With access to mapping for the entire country at the tips of my fingers, plus the ability to plot routes for downloading to GPS (see item 10), I can construct trails running routes anywhere I go. It doesn’t mean I won’t find myself wading through nettles or edging through a field of cows, but it’s a lot more fun than sticking to Strava routes on pavement.
Aeropress (coffee maker)
I’m not quite sure why, but every coffee from my aeropress feels like a treat. Strong, espresso-like coffee with no fuss, in less than 2 minutes. And portable! And for less than £25! Genius. I’ll happily use pre-ground coffee with it (usually Lavazza Qualita Rossa, since you ask), but this excellent burr grinder means I now also have the option for freshly grinding beans too.
I find it hard to think without scribbling, so a pen and paper are never far away when I’m working or planning. This is the pen I try to keep to hand. It’s very smooth and comfortable to write with, and that means my handwriting is slightly less illegible than with a pencil or ballpoint pen. I really enjoy using it. I hope they never stop making them.
Fightmaster Yoga (YouTube channel)
I aim to start every day with some mobility work or movement, and often, it’s yoga. Small amounts of yoga daily seem to me much more effective than one long class per week, and once you get in the routine, it’s easy to fit 10-20 minutes into your day. Picking a YouTube video to follow gives me way more variety than I’d manage on my own. I’ve found several channels that I like, but the one I most often tune into at the moment is Fightmaster Yoga. Varied, challenging and pacy, with plenty of short classes, these are fun sessions and they definitely wake my body up in the morning. Update: Tragically, Leslie Fightmaster passed away suddenly in late 2020. For the moment, her YouTube channel remains available and there are many years’ worth of excellent, albeit now very poignant, classes to choose from. RIP Leslie, and thank you.
There are so many resources for learning Python, maybe it’s unfair to mention only one. But RealPython does stand out for its clear, detailed tutorials that really aim to help you build a sound foundation of python knowledge and dev skills. I learned loads from it when I was first getting to grips with the language, and it remains a regular reference source for me. Big thanks to all their contributors, and to all the other Pythonistas who take the time to share their knowledge.
Garmin Edge 800 (gadget)
Ten years after it was first released, this Garmin GPS bike computer is still going strong. I debated for ages as to whether to buy one (it wasn’t cheap) but I’m very glad I did. Plot and download a route (or find someone else’s route onlie), download the relevent map (mine came with GB OS Maps loaded, but you can add as many as you can fit - or swap the SD card if you run out of space) and it will guide you through every twist and turn. Just a brilliant way to explore and it has been my trusty companion on so many memorable bike rides.
The Browser (newsletter)
After wishing for years that a viable micropayment platform for magazine & newspaper subscriptions would emerge, I finally discovered an even better solution - The Browser. A daily email containing links to five carefully curated articles, a short piece of video and one of audio, each with a brief, tantalizing summary. I have absolutely no idea how the curators manage to survey so many corners of the internet, but the range of writers, sources, topics and points of view is broad and diverse. If you want to escape your own echo chamber, try this. There’s a free subscription level that will give you a weekly taster. If you’re like me, you’ll soon upgrade!