Everyone has their arsenal of indispensable gadgets and apps they absolutely couldn’t live without, and we had a feeling the folks here at Backblaze would have a lot to say about the subject. We tapped the smart, savvy minds that keep our storage cloud up and running, and discovered a treasure trove of insights into the tech essentials that power their daily lives.
From budgeting apps to text editors to humble charging jacks, our staff share the tools they can’t live without. So, without further ado, let’s dig into the gear that keeps our collective gears turning:
Tech for Staying Connected
As a Mac guy, I love my Airpod Pros and the way they work seamlessly with my iPhone, Macbook Pro, and iPad. But things get a little wonky when you try to use them outside of the Apple ecosystem. I tried many different wireless earbuds and settled on the Anker Soundcore Space A40 Earbuds. I’m a big fan of The Wirecutter by the New York Times (and they’re big fans of us) and they had these at the top of their list. I love the sound quality, noise canceling, and excellent battery life. My Airpod Pros are still my go to when I’m out of the house, but when I need a good headset at home for my PC and other non-Apple devices, these have become my go to earbuds.
You know what I hate? Getting my phone out at inopportune times. You know what I don’t mind so much? Glancing down at my Google Pixel Watch to see that the cold call I’m receiving is being answered by my phone’s call screening and I don’t have to pick it up. Whether it’s the first version or the second, I have grown accustomed to having something on my wrist that acts as an extension of my phone. True digital bliss.
I use my webcam a LOT: Zoom and Google Meet with coworkers, FaceTime with family and friends, webinars with the Backblaze community of developers and admins, and quick-start videos for the Backblaze YouTube channel. Ever since I got my PlexiCam Pro mount about a year ago, it’s been my secret weapon in every one of those interactions. It’s a transparent plexiglass webcam mount that hangs from the top edge of my monitor, allowing me to position my webcam in my eyeline, just above my focus. To anyone on the call, I appear to be looking directly into the camera.
At $85, it’s not cheap, but it’s well designed and constructed, and feels like it will last forever. Highly recommended for anyone who spends a lot of time flicking their eyes between the screen and the webcam!
Tech for Devs
Ah, the age old debate of Emacs versus Vim: the two most widely used editors for Linux operating systems. I solidly planted my flag on team Vim once I learned how to save and exit the program. ;)
I do aspire to one day having a computer that only runs Emacs because byte compiled Emacs is cool to me. Until I graduate to that level of wizardry, I stick to Neovim when I need to quickly edit something from a terminal or want to appear cool in front of my coworkers. I mostly use the Vim extension in Intellij for day-to-day modifying of code and configs. If you would like to also learn Vim, I really enjoyed playing through Vim Adventures, which is a free game that teaches you a lot of the shortcuts and movements in Vim.
Continuing the discussion in favor of Vim, specifically Neovim. You only have to learn the keybindings once. There is a fantastic set of plugins to customize it to your heart’s content—Visual Studio Code has VSCodeVim, Intellij has IdeaVim, for example. Then you don’t have to relearn keybindings while switching between languages, projects, and code.
Tmux the terminal multiplexer: like Vim, it may have a steep learning curve but once you learn it you can’t live without it. The tmux wiki has some great getting started guides. I strongly recommend remapping the leader key (mine is Caps + A, or Caps Lock + A on Windows keyboards). You can set up customized tmux scripts to re-create all your environments (one session for server code, another for a different codebase, another for your notes, and so on). Each session then has multiple windows which you can create, split, and close quickly, no need to leave your keyboard.
For web technologies, learn the toolset available in the browser developer tools. Remember to preserve logs filter to specific responses so you won’t be overwhelmed looking at messages.
Stepping away from the browser and back into the terminal, learn Curl and ag or rg. For every “old” unix command there’s likely a modern replacement that’s 100s of times faster with much more customization available.
But there’s always the middle ground for situations where you may need to initiate a complex series of browser–webapp interactions and you need to modify or test something quickly. To do this, learn how to use Burp. In the long run it’s well worth it. It makes it a breeze to modify data between the browser and your app.
Last tip: for native code, just learn how to use the debugger.
Tech That Makes Home Homier
One power adapter to rule them all: the Anker 715 Charger (Nano II 65W). This one little power adapter can power my personal laptop, work laptop, headphones, and more. With one cable, one small charger cube, and a few small USB end adapters, I can charge everything.
A Roku. I use it at home for streaming apps, but I also carry one in my travel bag. There’s nothing worse than flipping through basic cable channels in a hotel when you’re traveling. Wait, yes there is—signing in to Netflix on the hotel TV and forgetting to sign out. If I travel with it, I just plug it in and I’m already signed in to all my apps.
I got tired of locking myself out of my own house and forgetting who I gave spare keys to, so I really appreciate this Yale Lock with Nest Connect. It works with the Nest cameras that I mostly use to see whether the UPS or DoorDash delivery person has the nerve to ring my doorbell. (Drop it and run, people!)
It’s secure and easy-to-use; no more locking myself out of my own house in the middle of winter. I can give a code to a friend so they can feed my cats while I’m away, or create temporary passcodes so I don’t have to wait around for the cable guy.
I have a hard time turning my brain off at night, so I used to pop in earbuds to listen to something soothing (not comfortable at all!). Then I got this Cozyband as a gift and became 100% addicted to it. I CAN fall asleep without it, but I don’t do it willingly. It’s also good for working out if you hate sweaty earbuds slipping out all the time.
It gets cold in my home, and I don’t necessarily want to heat the whole place when it’s just me. A good old fashioned heated blanket does the trick. All the tech in the world won’t help you when you’re shivering.
The Apps Have Entered the Chat
As a working mom with two boys, I am always on the go. Both of my boys are now playing for AAA travel teams. I try my best to keep up with all their games, and LiveBarn is how I stay connected to them. It allows me to pull up a live feed or on-demand video of the game. Last weekend was a great example: they were playing at two different rinks across town. I was able to pull up one game on LiveBarn on my phone, and watch both games literally at the same time. When my older son came home and asked me if I saw his goal, I was able to say, “I heard Coach yell, ‘Nice shot, Newy!’”
My life changed when I adopted a password manager years ago. Before I went back to full-time corporate life in 2020, I freelanced quite a bit—which means an endless series of logins and passwords, depending on how you’re engaging with your clients. And, while I enjoy making up 13–15 character passphrases with a mix of upper and lowercase letters, at least one symbol with some outlawed symbols (but different ones on each site), and then remembering which ones I’ve used for which accounts without reusing them… Oh wait, I actually really don’t like that. I’d rather have a password manager like Bitwarden that can generate passwords, follows me device to device, and allows me to enable biometric controls. And, spoiler alert for any of my family members who diligently read my work (I’m sure): This year the whole family is getting a subscription as a gift, and I can centrally manage it for my non-tech-inclined family members.
I’m not going into the story of how I got hooked on this app, but I will tell you that CENTR’s meal planning tool is a life saver. You can set a crazy variety of dietary needs, select your meals and portions for a week, and it spits out a perfectly organized shopping list. Then, when you want to make a meal, you just pop into the app and it tells you exactly how to look like you know what you’re doing in the kitchen. It’s sort of pricey, but the amount of money I save by not ordering in or wasting food that I bought without a plan more than makes up for it.
Hoping on the app train here. The one I can’t live without is definitely YNAB. I’m trying to get better at budgeting ahead (and get my husband and I on the same page—haha!) and I like their philosophical approach to a typically boring subject.
The “Tech Is a Tool” Answer
I don’t have a favorite tech thing. I certainly use lots of them, but I would not be lost without them because I was raised without any of the current tech. I know how to tie my shoes without watching a Youtube video. Just sayin’.
Leave it to Andy to send us off with a reminder to put the tech down sometimes, as we hope you all get a chance to do this holiday season. But, we also want to know: what’s the tech that you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments.