Software/Programs/Apps I love – Part 3: iPhone

Today we turn to iOS platform. I don’t own an iPad so I’ve only used these apps on iPhone. Again this list won’t cover very popular apps like Duolingo. Most of them are also available on the Web and Android.

1. Pocket (alternatives include Instapaper and Readability)

Before I knew Pocket, when I found some cool stories online but didn’t have the time to read them right away, I bookmarked the page. Over time I ended up with a lot of bookmarks that required a huge chunk of time to actually read.

Now I save them to Pocket (by Save to Pocket Chrome extension), then this Pocket app becomes a mobile reading list so that I can read it whenever I want (e.g. waiting for a bus). Also Pocket removes the ads on the webpages, helping me focus on the content.

2. Feedly

Before I knew RSS, I had to check all of my favorite websites/blogs frequently because I did not want to miss any new posts. However, after a while I found this very tiring. RSS can solve this problem: all I need to do is to subscribe (just like YouTube) to the websites/blogs and every new posts will appear in my RSS reader automatically.

The best RSS reader used to be Google Reader. After Google shut it down on 7/1/2013, I switched to Feedly and it’s been working well. Their iOS app is great except one thing: pictures from Angewandte Chemie International Edition cannot display properly. So I am using Reeder on my phone.

Bonus – some websites/blogs I follow:

In English:

Waitbutway: weekly updated blog with insightful and unusually long posts. Some of my favorite posts are:

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy (This is probably their most famous post)

How to Pick Your Life Partner (Part 2)

Life is a Picture, But You Live in a Pixel

7 Ways To Be Insufferable On Facebook

If you read these posts and agree with them, potentially you and I can be good friends.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD): from NASA.

Abstruse Goose/PHD Comics/xkcd: geeky comics.

Hi, I’m Liz: cute comics.

In Chinese:




3. HabitRPG

To-do list (e.g. Google Task, Todoist, Wunderlist, is a great idea, and I’ve been using them for a long time. Recently I found HabitRPG and it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking for a long time. You’ve probably already heard about gamification, and this 8-min tutorial video explains how HabitRPG works. The HabitRPG Chrome extension can (potentially) help you spend less time on YouTube/Facebook/Reddit/9gag (RescueTime does the same thing).

4. Mint

Best free way to manage (my small amount of) money.


Workout app. A timer between sets and a log.

6. Starmap lite

Star Walk is great, but this one is free, and it works, too.

7. TripCase

Keep all your itineraries in one place.

Bonus: how to organize iPhone apps

First world problem: you have so many apps on your iPhone that you can’t find them when you need them. My solution: 1) delete the ones you don’t really need; 2) organize them in a way that works for you.

Here’s how I do it: Dock: A-level (frequency of usage) apps; Page 1: B-level apps, no folders; Page 2: C-level apps and folders. Page 3: new apps to test. You can see other ways of organizing apps here and here.


Software/Programs/Apps I love – Part 2: Google products

Since this is part 2, two is the keyword of this post.

1. Two third-party services for Gmail that have great potentials:


Toss the junk with one click.

If you want unsubscribe all those ads in your inbox, try this.


Fly through your email.

Turn your inbox into a to-do list.

2. Two of less known Google products:
(Click here for more. Hope Google won’t shut them down like Google Reader)

Map Engine Lite:

Create and share custom maps.

Great for trip planning.

Culture Institute:

Discover exhibits and collections from museums and archives all around the world.

3. Two of my favorite YouTube channels:

CGP Grey:

Complex things explained.


Breaking news on a weekly basis.

Hosted by John Oliver.

4. Two of my favorite Chrome extensions:

Google Dictionary:

View definitions easily as you browse the web.

Look up the definition of a word by simply double clicking on it.

KB SSL enforcer:

Automatic security, browse encrypted.

Enforce https when possible.

Software/Programs/Apps I love – Part 1: PC/Windows

I decided to kickstart my blog by sharing some of my personal favorite software/programs/apps.  This list does not include very popular ones like Dropbox, and I’ll begin with the PC/Windows platform. You can find a lot more great software here. The following software are all free (at least for now, 08/15/2014):

1. Ninite

Install and Update All Your Programs at Once.

It’s really helpful when you want to install a lot of software on your new computer.

2. CCleaner

CCleaner is the number-one tool for cleaning your Windows PC. It protects your privacy online and makes your computer faster and more secure. Easy to use and a small, fast download.

It’s the best of its kind.

3. f.lux

f.lux makes your computer screen look like the room you’re in, all the time. When the sun sets, it makes your computer look like your indoor lights. In the morning, it makes things look like sunlight again.

I know it sounds strange at first, but trust me, you’ll love it. Also available on iOS (requires jailbreak).

4. FreeFileSync

FreeFileSync is a folder comparison and synchronization tool providing highly optimized performance and usability without a needlessly complex user interface.

If you need more space on Dropbox, try to move less important files out of Dropbox and sync them with FreeFileSync.

5. Launchy

Launchy is a free cross-platform utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager.
Launchy indexes the programs in your start menu and can launch your documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes!

It’s easy to set up and really saves a lot of time. For example, if I want to open a folder/file called “software”, all I need to do is:
0) index the folder containing the folder/file (I just had my whole hard drive indexed, and I only have to do this once);
1) press “Alt+Space” to bring out Launchy;
2) type “software” in Launchy;
3) when it shows up (usually I don’t have to complete the whole word), press “Enter”.

6. Keepass

KeePass is a free open source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file. So you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole database.

One trick: if you sync the database file in Dropbox, you can add/modify it from anywhere. One Drawback: I have not found a way to access the database easily from my iPhone.

7. SpaceSniffer

SpaceSniffer is a freeWare and portable tool application that lets you understand how folders and files are structured on your disks.

It’s really helpful when I want to know where are the largest files/folders so I can delete them to get more free space on my hard drive. It’s fast and straightforward.

8. OneNote

All your notes, on all your devices, all up to date.

You probably did not expect a Microsoft product on this list. There are a lot of comparisons between OneNote and EverNote (e.g. here, here, and here),  and I feel OneNote is more useful for me because it’s good for compiling and organizing every kind of information you can think of (so in theory it can serve as your personal knowledge base). On the other hand, EverNote is less useful for me since I don’t clip things from webpages that often. Instead, I save them to Pocket. OneNote is free and available on a lot of platforms, and it syncs in the cloud. If you want to organize tons of Word doc files you saved for future reading on your computer, give it a try.