Top Tools for Learning 2022
It's that time of the year again when educators and developers send their list of top tools to Jane Hart. You can see my full list of web-based tools and services on my website. Here's my top ten list.
- Firefox - I know, most people won't even list their browser, or maybe they use Chrome or Edge, but Firefox is pretty key to me. In particular, I use a number of extensions that offer me a pleasant and ad-free internet browsing experience, specifically, UBlock Origin, Video Download Helper, View Image, Web Developer, 1Password, and more. I also appreciate that it disables tracking cookies and does not report my web development activities back to corporate headquarters.
- Feedly - While people continue to talk about RSS as though it's old fashioned or even dead, for me it's like a secret weapon that keeps me current and up-to-date. And while there are any number of RSS applications (including ones I've built) in general Feedly has been worth the pro subscription I've maintained over the years. In particular, I've found the application's 'Leo' artificial intelligence to be exceptionally useful. I've been able to train it over a number of years to filter and organize links from different topics to save a lot of time wasted on cruft and commercialism while looking for the genuinely new and interesting.
- Thunderbird - email remains an important tool for me, and this application (for personal email) along with Outlook (for corporate email) provides my access to it. I send donations to Thunderbird to support the platform. My personal email account is run through GMail, as part of my GSuite (or whatever they're calling it now) subscription, and between them my exposure to spam is essentially zero (meanwhile, the best security the federal government can muster still allows a continuous flow of spam, phishing messages and malware to be sent through Outlook). I subscribe to a number of newsletters and discussion lists and maintain a valuable personal correspondence with a number of individuals.
- Pocket - This is a Mozilla tool I use as part of my newsletter workflow. Any like I find that I want to return to later I save in Pocket - I have it set up using IFTTT that Feedly 'read later' links are saved to Pocket, as well as whatever I indicate on my phone or computer web browser. Then, when I go to write my newsletter I review my list of links in Pocket and select the ones I want for today (that's how I'll often put several related links in a single post, or group them together to create a themed issue of the newsletter). I also use IFTTT to make my Pocket contents on Tumblr.
- Reclaim Cloud - this is my gymnasium, my exercise area where I install, test and build software. I host most of my websites here, and it makes a regular appearance on my Stephen Follows Instructions series of videos. I use Reclaim because it's accessible and affordable. I've used cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft, Digital Ocean, and Google, and find them too complex and too expensive. In theory I could use cloud services through my employer, but I could never share the applications publicly.
- Mastodon - this is a federated social network that allows me to have conversations with groups of people without being subjected to The Algorithm (that prioritizes paid content, advertising, clickbait, and worse (cf Twitter, Facebook)). Perhaps because of this, discussions tend to me much more informative and respectful on Mastodon. It's a valuable source of input from a community without the unhelpful and often spammy intrusions (cf LinkedIn) from the rest of the world. There are other federated social networks, but this is the one I landed on.
- Google Docs - the specific application here is word processing, and I use MS Word a lot as well, because the interface is nicer, but I'm listing Docs here because I'm able to share current versions of my work, and because of the potential for collaborative editing. This readers can share with me my work as I develop it. That said, it's far from where it should be; I can't manage references with it, there's no real editing capabilities for larger works, internal cross-referencing is a pain, and I can't connect it to a graph or database of resources.
- Zoom - I continue to maintain a Zoom account, even though my employer has mostly shifted over to MS Teams (which was probably inevitable), because I can easily host and access videoconferences. Yes I know there are others, and especially free alternatives like Jitsi and BigBlueButton, but they do not have the ease and ubiquity of Zoom. That said, I don't do a lot of videoconferencing - mostly, it's only for online courses and for meetings. Other tools - Google Meet, WebEx, Connect - have dropped off the radar because they are awkward or unreliable. Though I still rely on Google's recording tool to capture audio and generate text transcripts.
- Pocket Casts - this app sits on my phone and is my primary tool for listening to podcasts, and I'll often listen to podcasts while cycling. Mostly I lean toward This Week in Technology - the main TWIT show as well as This Week in Google and Windows Weekly. I'd mention YouTube in this context, though I find that unless there's a specifically visual element (like working with a tool or equipment) I really have no patience to watch a video for learning.
- VS Code - Microsoft's Visual Studio Code is my main platform for developing. I don't use it as well as I should (there are all kinds of coding supports I don't use) but I do use the GitHub integration and as a staging area for Docker containers, which is where I do a lot of my off-cloud cloud development. One thing I like a lot is being able to select and run terminals directly in the VSCode environment, which saves me a lot of time.