Software That Changed Your Life – 2020 Edition

Way back in 2006, I wrote a blog post called Software that Changed Your Life.

Well that might be a big title for this post, but I was talking with some folks over the weekend about software you’ve used or software that has really influenced your life. I think many people say Google Earth has changed how they view data, but for me it really wasn’t that impressive since Google Earth is more of a validation of what we’ve done over the years than a life changer

I thought it would be fun to look at how things have changed since then. My job is very different, I can’t remember the last time I created a map or changed cartography in a mapping product. I think one can look at that 2006 list as how I got to the point that I lived the rest of my life. So here is the updated list:

  1. HyperCard – I just can’t stress enough how much this changed my life. The concept of a database and visualization. The scripting language on the backend, and everything that eventually become the web (buttons, forms, etc) on the front. I’d like to think that I would have learned to program a different way, but teaching myself Hypercard is exactly how I go to where I am today.
  2. BBEdit – to this day I still use BBEdit. I think I purchased my first copy back in about 1994 and I’ve used it probably every day since then. I’m sure I’ve used every text editor. Today I use BBEdit, VS Code and of course Nano, yet I find myself in BBEdit more than anything else. I taught myself Grep using BBEdit and probably after a hypertext markup language, Grep has done more for me than just about anything. From JSON to Python, from CSS to GeoJSON, from JavaScript to Perl, I write it all right here.
  3. Perl – I was going to put JavaScript here. I probably should have put JavaScript here. But I have to be honest, the scripting language that got me thinking about scripting was Perl. I rarely use it anymore, other than pulling some script out of a folder and running it one off. I use Python more for my scripting or JavaScript. But from the time I bought the first edition of Programming Perl I was hooked.
  4. PostGIS – So another one I thought about. Elastic? MS Access? DBF? SQL Server? I mean what database should be the one that changed my life. It has to be PostGIS. Without it I would probably have put MySQL right here. But no, it’s PostGIS. The reason this blog was created was to learn more about PostGIS and how to get that damn thing installed on Windows Server. Some day on my newsletter I’ll write about the impact of Simple Features for SQL. From the moment in 2005 when I got PostGIS working until today, I’ve always had PostGIS running somewhere near me.
  5. Safe FME – Sadly I don’t use FME anymore. But let me be crystal clear here. There is no better tool out there to help you manage data. I probably should find myself a copy of it and run it again. At WeoGeo we used it for everything. I’ve used it while at Architecture firms, Engineering firms, startups and in between. Data is agnostic and using a tool that is helps keep the integrity of data. Before FME I spent so much time trying to keep all the data in one format and in one projection (I was young, let me be), but when I was able to drag a reader on to a workspace, throw up a transformer and then connect that to a writer, I was hooked. FME should be standard issue for any true Geospatial data user.

Some other software that didn’t make the list but could have and I didn’t mention above? GDAL/OGR, Tippecanoe, ArcGIS, Excel, Google Earth and Photoshop. Such a personal list and one I think changes over time. I think the core of what makes me who I am is up there, but it is also up in that 2006 list too. For fun you can look at the Way Back Machine and see the comments on that blog post. I see Sean Gillies, Morten Nielsen, Brian Timoney, Steve Pousty, Bill Dollins, and others in that list.

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Mr. Magoo Does GIS

I’m 46. It is weird even typing that. I’ll be 47 later this year which is even weirder. In my mind I think I’m till thirty-something but age is starting to creep up to me. I’ve noticed that I need reading glasses to see my iPhone.

Homer putting on reading glasses

The days of small text on small screens so I don’t have to scroll is over. Out is 11pt and 12pt fonts in my text editors and terminal windows and in comes 14pt. Fixed with fonts such as SF Mono and Roboto Mono seem to handle my eyes better too. Originally I was thinking that the dark mode on many terminal apps and text editors was going to be hard on my eyes but the fonts above on retina screens really pops for me. That said, dropping down to a non-retina monitor I have a very hard time reading things. So the quality of the screen and fonts seem to mean more to me than the color of the screen. Right now this is my environment:

For text editing, mostly I’m using BBEdit. I’ve hacked the SF Mono font so it is available for BBEdit to use and it is set at 14pt. For my theme, I’m using Xcode Dark which attempts to recreate the Xcode dark mode on BBEdit.

But I use VSCode as well. There I’m using Roboto Mono and the Dark+ Material theme. It is different than the look for BBEdit but it works for me in VSCode.

I’ve replaced with which I’m in love with. I use Roboto Mono and the Hyper-Clean theme. Again a little bit different than the above, but it just works. 14pt font as of course.

I think given that I have three different themes going on here is proof that I haven’t settled down on what looks best for me. I think eventually I’ll have a common theme color and go with it for all three products. 14pt font for me works well. It’s big enough that my eyes don’t strain, but small enough that I can fit enough on my screen. I think if Apple releases SF Mono as a system font, rather than a hack, I’ll go with it over Roboto Mono but honestly Roboto Mono is a great font for me too. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Most other apps I use on a regular basis such as Evernote, Safari, Chrome, Slack, I just go with the defaults. Many have a dark mode that mimics the Mac OS X dark mode and that’s fine with me. If Apple were to allow customization of that dark mode I’d probably be happy but we all know that will never happen. The last year has been hard for me with my eyes, it was the first time I felt myself holding my iPhone out at arms length to read it. What I’ve learned is to embrace a larger font and not strain my eyes. Pride is not suffering because you can’t read like you did 20 years ago, it’s having the will to make the choices you need to continue to be successful. For me, the above works.


Editor Choices

I’ve been a BBEdit user since probably 1994 (that’s the oldest floppy disk I can find) and I’ve loved it. Back when I worked at WeoGeo though, I flirted with TextMate as did many others who worked with Ruby. But that project imploded with the 2.0 beta so I moved back to BBEdit with MacVim running when I needed command line editing. I’ve dabbled in Sublime Text but I just never cared for it so I stuck with BBEdit.

With my new job though I’m knee deep in Node.js and Express.js and BBEdit just isn’t working for me so I’m looking at a new editor. My choices as I see them right now are:

I’ve used Atom on and off since GitHub had their beta but I stuck with BBEdit for what I’m guess are “historic reasons”. Atom, being born out of GitHub is modern and has what appears to be a robust community behind it with packages and themes.

Brackets is intriguing but I just can’t get my head behind using an Adobe product (even if it is open source). I feel like Adobe PageMill might just suddenly appear on my desktop. The biggest +/- of Brackets is that it is designed for web design. It doesn’t concern itself with Objective C or Swift coding. It’s focused on web technology which simplifies it a bit but limits my use of it. I like the idea of just using one editor and staying with it.

Now Microsoft Studio Code is very good. I’ve really liked using it and it too has a robust community developing extensions. Plus it is built on Electron which is the underpinnings of Atom.

I’m torn between using Microsoft Studio Code and Atom. I’ve been locked on Atom the past week and while I do like what Microsoft has done with Code, I think I’m going to be staying on Atom moving forward. The best part of JavaScript development though is you really don’t need to standardize on any editor. Just let Git control the project and edit in TextEdit.