Orchard Lab

A place to share my thoughts and learnings


Posted at — Aug 26, 2023

Great tools enable us to focus and unleash our creativity. They either allow us to do things we couldn’t do before or provide us with new perspectives we hadn’t considered.

Here are a couple of tools that have stayed with me for a long time, and I am grateful to have them. I am a macOS user, so some of these tools are only available on this platform. However, you can find alternatives on other platforms as well.



Alfred is an award-winning app for macOS which boosts your efficiency with hotkeys, keywords, text expansion and more. Search your Mac and the web, and be more productive with custom actions to control your Mac.

To me, Alfred is an integral part of macOS; it’s the first thing I install on any macOS system.

It’s a launcher, but with an extremely customizable workflow. I love its simplicity; everything is displayed in a list format. Each item on the list contains just three elements: title, description, and icon.

While at Amazon, I even created an Alfred workflow for internal use, allowing developers to search for packages, pipelines, wikis, and contacts. Thousands of developers at Amazon used it.

You can easily create workflows integrating with your company’s unique tools or workflows as well using any programming language.

Raycast is the new kid in this space, offering more sophisticated and rich user interactions. I tried it a couple of times but eventually returned to Alfred for its simplicity.



iTerm2 is a replacement for Terminal and the successor to iTerm. It works on Macs with macOS 10.14 or newer. iTerm2 brings the terminal into the modern age with features you never knew you always wanted.

Solid terminal with very few surprises. It’s just so fast.

Warp is the new kid in this space, but I found it to be “too helpful” at times.



tmux is a terminal multiplexer. It lets you switch easily between several programs in one terminal, detach them (they keep running in the background) and reattach them to a different terminal.

We usually work in a “workspace” manner, meaning we run multiple tasks for one project—logs, frontend, backend, monitoring.

Tmux is like the express lane that enables you to quickly jump back into (restore) the context you left. You can start a development session with multiple tasks running—using Vim, tailing logs, and configuring the frontend—in a single session.

The beauty is the next day, you can instantly back to the entire context where you left the day before.

iA Writer


iA Writer gives you the essence of pure writing by providing an unobtrusive interface that lets you concentrate on your text. Despite its minimalistic approach, the application offers a variety of distinctive features that are specifically designed for writing-focused tasks. With iA Writer, you can gain unparalleled insight into your writing structure, detect superfluous words and clichés, and navigate through your documents and notes with ease.

There is no other writing tool in the world better than iA Writer for me. It’s the one and only tool I use when writing long-form content (including this one of course) or when extreme focus is needed.

It’s fast, stylish, and unobtrusive. Something about this tool makes you feel like you are connecting with the words, and nothing else matters.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, you should try it.



I don’t write journal everyday. But I still find the joy whenever I re-read the memories I’ve captured. It’s local-first software, simple and elegant.

Even if I use paper notebooks for many journals, I still frequently use DayOne, especially when I’ve had great times with the kids, so I can include pictures or even voice recordings.



Syncthing is a continuous file synchronization program. It synchronizes files between two or more computers in real time, safely protected from prying eyes. Your data is your data alone and you deserve to choose where it is stored, whether it is shared with some third party, and how it’s transmitted over the internet.

This tool is the unsung hero in the background. It’s a P2P, reliable, fast syncing tool.

I use it to synchronize folders among multiple macOS devices. I normally setup a special folder that allows me to share things between my work and personal laptops. I’ve never encountered a single issue. It even worked flawlessly when I traveled back to China and tried to sync things from my Mac mini back in US.



Logseq is another local-first outliner-styled note-taking software. It took me a while to embrace its outlining nature. After using it for a year, I’ve grown to love its outline aspects. This limitation genuinely forces me to think more clearly and coherently.

You can link notes or ideas from each other, and even make PDF notes right inside Logseq. Best of all, all data is stored locally in your selected folder in Markdown (or Org) formats.

Tools are a personal thing, things works for me might not get the love from others, which is fine. Keep exploring and creating.