Franz Vitulli’s Equipment List Ep.2: apps, tools and software I use

If you have read the Ep.1 of this Equipment List series you how much I care about having a minimalist workspace. If this is possible, it’s thanks to the following awesome apps.

Enjoy!

Communication

To manage my email addresses I use Airmail on both my Macs and my iPhone. If you’re anything like me, you manage several email addresses. When they become two/three, it’s fairly easy to manage them from a single Gmail account. After a while (and another couple of addresses to add) it just gets impossible.

I live on Slack, the chat of our choice at Human Made (WordPress communities use it too), and on Telegram, but thanks to Franz I can be connected to Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger too in the same environment. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with Skype, which I use it only when I have to call landline or mobile number. At Human Made we use Zoom for our team hangouts.

When it comes to social media management, I use Tweetdeck and the Twitter Mac/iOS apps to manage multiple Twitter accounts, Buffer for scheduling and quick image editing (really in love with Pablo!), and ManageFlitter to track the accounts I follow.

To-do and project management

My go-to app is Trello, both for personal tasks and to share Happytables / Human Made tasks with the rest of the team. In the personal board I have some staple columns (house, health, family, shopping list, articles to write, to-do-this-week, etc.), and usually a to-do-before-[event] column. I don’t necessarily want tasks related to that event. I use the next big event (which can be Christmas, a friend’s wedding, etc.) as a basis to set a deadline for everything.

Writing & Reading

I write in several apps, from Apple Pages to the Google Drive document editor. I use also Hackpad and Dropbox Paper, a document editor that allows users to create collaborative notes and share their comments.

iA Writer is my favourite markdown editor and recently I’ve started using it to produce drafts and organise thoughts. I simply love its distraction-free environment.

I love creating spreadsheets on Google Drive and presentations on Apple Keynote.

aText expands short snippets to pre-defined text of virtually any length.

To create MOBI files from EPUB and doing other Kindle management stuff, I use Calibre.

Sublime Text 3 is the code editor I use when I play around with coding. When I’m building a theme for WordPress and want to add style to my starter theme of choice (Underscores), I use Prepros to compile my Sass.

When I stumble upon an article I want to read but I don’t have time to read it straightaway, I send it to Pocket.

Hemingway helps me streamline my sometimes pointlessly overcomplicated sentences.

Photo editing

Photoshop addict here, but without being too much expert.

To edit pictures on my mobile device, I use VSCO or Afterlight.

Blogging

Goes without saying, WordPress is the engine behind this website as well as the 25% of the internet. I’m also part of the global WordPress community – take a look at the things that need to get done because it’s an awesome way to give back, a good thing for your resumé, and builds a fantastic network of people for you. The WordPress communities (global, UK, Italy, etc.) usually run on Slack.

Plugins

Here’s a list with just some WordPress plugins I regularly use:

Yoast SEO. A comprehensive all-in-one SEO solution for a WordPress website.

Akismet. Blocks incoming spam comments.

Jetpack. Traffic growth, stats, insights and other goodness.

BackUpWordPress. Simple automated backup to a destination of my choice.

WP Remote. Plugin but also web app to update WordPress core, plugins and themes with just one click. Human Made built it before I joined the company, and now we’re selling it.

Gravity Forms. Nice forms with multiple purposes, from a simple contact form to a tool to collect information from readers and create user-generated content.

SiteOrigin PageBuilder. Theme-agnostic layout and call-to-action builder.

Insert Headers and Footers. Fields to enter stuff that doesn’t mess up with Yoast.

Easy Google Fonts. To select Google Fonts directly on the customizer.

WP Super Cache. Very fast caching plugin for WordPress.

Product support

At Happytables, we use Intercom for support and CRM, and HelpJuice for building a FAQ/documentation page. The best feature of HelpJuice? The internal search engine.

Music

I have a Spotify Unlimited subscription and love shuffling my constantly-changing playlists specifically designed for work: OSTs I like and an ambient selection.

Podcast management

I love Pocket Casts. It’s available wherever you are (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and as a web player). I use it on iOS and love its clear download / stream / delete instructions, as well as its great UI. Most importantly (for me), has Chromecast integration.

Traveling

Every time I have to plan a new trip, I start my flight search on Skyscanner. Such a great and easy tool to find cheapest flights.

If you have to visit a big city such as London you can’t make it without Citymapper (tells you how to get where you need to go).

When I need a cab, I use Uber instead. Much better service, better cars, better experience overall. Get £10 off your first trip.

These days I usually don’t use hotels. Airbnb offers me the chance to be on the road and still have a place I can call home, what’s not to love?

Foursquare (along with its extension Swarm)  is the app I use for discovering coffee shops, restaurants, bars, pubs and more.

To see if there are remote workers or digital nomads in town, Nomadbase is the place to go.

Learning

I’m a big TED fan, I’ve watched so many talks over the years I can’t even say what’s my favourite one.

As a serial WordCamp attendee, I can’t leave WordPress.tv off this list. Most of the WordCamp talks I’ve seen live are there too.

Codecademy is my online coding school of reference.

Misc / utility apps

f.lux. The only way to keep working with a computer after the sunset and not get blinded. Doesn’t really work for you if you need to do image / video editing.

Pennies. Everyday money-management.

Clocks. An essential tool to track timezones, very useful when you have both colleagues and clients around the globe.

Caffeine. Give your MacBook some caffeine and it will stay awake without touching trackpad / mouse.

Sidestep. Because I want to browse securely from airports and coffee shops.

1Password. An awesome and safe way to deal with passwords. I have installed it both on my Macs and on my iPhone.

Sleep Cycle. Sleep tracking for iOS at its best.

[This article is part of my Equipment List Series. Check out the Ep.1 with my gear list here]

Franz Vitulli’s Equipment List Ep.1: The Marketing Specialist

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of minimalism in all things, and certainly my workstation doesn’t make an exception. As I work from home I could have easily built a massive battlestation with multiple screens, super stereo system and other awesome tools, but I prefer a setup that can be the same, regardless of the place where I am (home, coffee shop, company retreat, visiting family in Italy, etc.).

I love the idea behind the modern desk, with just a laptop and a smartphone. If you have them packed with the right apps*, you don’t really need anything else (see the video below).

Enjoy the list!

My office toys

MacBook Pro 13″. My trusty main computer. It’s a late-2011 MBP, recently boosted with a 16 GB RAM kit. It’s been with me since I got my Master’s Degree, right before leaving Italy. Still runs Mavericks, and I’m not sure I will upgrade it to Yosemite.

MacBook Air Costa Coffee
MacBook Air @ Costa Coffee (Gatwick Airport)

MacBook Air 11″. This little beast comes with me pretty much anywhere. It’s super silent, quick, as light as an old fashioned paper notebook. Put it in your backpack and you’ll never think you’re carrying a computer. And most importantly, there is no work-related task it can’t handle.

iPhone 5s. Doesn’t need any introduction. Reliable, easy to use, extremely tough after the Case Mate treatment. Nothing fancy, just a stubborn anti-slip black case.

Apple Magic Mouse. I’ve been using a laptop as a main computer since 2005 and never really used a mouse with consistency… I’ve recently decided to get this mouse because playing with Photoshop using the trackpad is a bit of a pain. It’s also good for travelling.

Kindle 4. Another late-2011 gadget I’m not upgrading anytime soon (unless I have to). Plenty of marketing, technology, business and personal development ebooks in there. Long life battery, which is huge advantage for a modern mobile gadget. Consider it a work tool even if it normally sits on your bedside table!

Sony MDR-ZX300. Despite being a musician, I’ve never truly considered myself an audiophile. Especially when it comes to listening to the music while I’m working, I don’t really feel the need for something better than these budget Sony headphones. Whilst they fit well in my MBA bag, I never bring them with me outside (I prefer Apple earbuds).

Ikea Markus. Last addition to the workplace, it’s a comfy and sturdy office chair that I intend to use forever.

Ikea Bräda. This little piece of plastic is one of those things no one would include in their awesome equipment list. But it just works! It’s a nice laptop support that put the keyboard at an angle that makes much easier for you to type.

Next new entries?

Tablet. I’ve been aiming for an iPad Mini for a long time now. It’s just that I’m not sure if it fits my current setup: the MBA is small enough to be carried everywhere, and most of the things I’d do with an iPad can be done on the iPhone. It would surely give the expression “reading experience” a whole new meaning, and yet I don’t know whether or not I’d miss my Kindle if I decide to make the upgrade.

Things I don’t want to see on my desk

Post-it’s, letters, business cards, magazines, random pieces of paper, etc. Most of the clutter on the large majority of desks is paper. And modern laptops and smartphones allow you to take notes on the fly. There’s no need to use paper in 2014. Period.

Pens. The best way to keep paper far from your desk is throwing pens away. Just keep a couple of them (one in your laptop bag, the other one somewhere not so close to your desk).

Food, cups, cutlery, etc. I always have a Bobble jug and a glass on my desk, because I drink a lot of water (at least 10-12 big glasses per day). But I really hate dirty dishes and cups of tea/coffee where they shouldn’t be.

Photo frames. Pictures of loved ones are better on the iPhone lock screen!

Decorative objects, souvenirs and whatnot. I’m just not the right guy for that kind of things.

* think that it’s impossible to work with just laptop and smartphone? You’re not alone.  But I can prove you can. Just wait for the next article in the Equipment List series.

It’s WordCamp Europe time, again!

Less than one week and I will be in Sofia, the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. I know, you too are thinking Bulgaria! That’s quite an unusual destination isn’t that? like all my friends did. In all fairness it is, but if anything the unusualness only adds extra excitement and enthusiasm.

Why am I going to Sofia?

Let’s take a step back. As I work in a distributed team, I don’t share an office with my work buddies. Our normal place of work is our place of choosing: coffee shop, library, airport, home, hotel, Airbnb apartment, coworking space, you name it, a Human is working or has worked there. I work from home, but I surely don’t dislike the occasional trip to central London. Sitting in a Costa or a Starbucks coffee shop, having a cup of Earl Grey tea and doing my job with the pleasant ambient sound of a cafe. I mean, someone also developed an app for that, there must be some real good in it.

It goes without saying that every time the Human Made family get the chance to hang out everyone is pretty excited – especially when the expression hangout has nothing to do with the well known video chat platform developed by the folks at Google.

The first time I personally met the other Humans was in Amsterdam, four of five days before the 2013 WordCamp Europe that took place in the beautiful Dutch town of Leiden. Things have changed since then: I was still finishing my marketing internship, now I am a full-time member of the gang. Something that makes me feel fortunate to say the very least.

This year, the organising team for WordCamp Europe accepted Sofia’s bid. And just as last year we are combining the WordCamp experience with one of our retreats.

We are going to enjoy several activities during those days, notably the unofficial WordCamp walking tour of Sofia organised by Rhys Wynne, the Paintball Battle of Nations (I won’t take part as I think I’d be the only member of the Azzurri team), the Human Made & SiteGround bar hopping and, during the retreat, the flash talk night. At the last winter retreat in Trysil, Norway, I made a Keynote presentation about getting proficient with playing basic bass lines in just a couple of weeks. What am I going to talk about this time? Haven’t decided on it yet, expect an update somewhat soon.

It’ll be my fourth WordCamp (after Leiden, London and Oslo), third Human Made retreat, second WordCamp Europe and first time in Bulgaria. Also the first WordCamp since I started taking online coding classes – some of the most tech talks might start to make some sort of sense to me, wow.

Looking forward!
2014 WordCamp Europe in Sofia, Bulgaria

There are so many reasons why I can’t wait to jump on that plane and fly to Sofia. First, WordCamps are amazing. The WordPress community is amazing. Second, experiencing once again the proof that a great company culture is possible. Third, getting familiar with Bulgaria’s tech scene. I’ve heard nice things of it.

You’ll be around at the WordCamp and want to connect? Awesome. If your job is anything like mine (marketing / support side of things for SaaS, web apps built on WordPress, etc.), even better. Ping me on Twitter (@franzvitulli) or leave a comment here.

Google Chromecast, the best invention since sliced bread

Ok, I may have exaggerated a little with the title, but man, it should be illegal not to have this little device plugged in to each one of your HD tv’s. Seriously. How did I ever live without it!

Google Chromecast turns your boring HD screen into a smart TV that can be controlled from your computer or mobile device. Isn’t that awesome?

It’s really affordable (£30 here in the UK, less than half the price of its competitors), discreet (it’s designed to be plugged in to the back of your tv and forgot about it) and stunningly simple to use.

The setup

chromecast_iphone
The Chromecast folder on my iPhone. How does yours look like?

It’s super easy, whether you use an iOS or an Android mobile devices, or a Mac / Windows computer. Buy a Chromecast from Amazon (US | UK), download the Chromecast app (click on the link for the computer version or head to the App Store / Google Play store), plug it into your tv’s HDMI port and follow the on-screen instructions. Boom, you’re all set.

The Chromecast icon will show up every time you open an app that work this little magic dongle. You can also cast a Google Chrome tab after you have installed this extension.

Enjoy your favourite media

I love using my iPhone as a remote for my Chromecast. I just launch a Chromecast-compatible app, head to the video or channel I want to watch and send it to my tv. That’s it.

As I’m in UK, there are several services I can’t have (HBO Go, Hulu, Pandora, etc.). Overall I’m pretty happy with the apps I’m using, especially considering that Netflix is the only one I’m paying for – BT Sport is free for BT customers and offers Premier League, Aviva Rugby Premiership, Serie A, Bundesliga and WTA tournaments to name a few.

Spotify has so far chosen not to support Google Chromecast, but that’s not a problem to me. I like listening to the music from my computer with headphones, and if I wanted to cast Spotify with Chromecast I’d just cast a Google Chrome tab running the Spotify Web Player.

And as content is not streamed from the device itself but from the cloud, your iPhone battery won’t die after two House Of Cards episodes (that was my main concern at the beginning).

How do you use your Chromecast? I’m really looking forward to reading your favourite Chromecast tricks and hacks into the comment section.