“Under-appreciated” is definitely hard to quantify. However, these tools dramatically simplify my day-to-day workflow, and most people I talk to have only heard of them from me. So, my goal with this post is to introduce people to some useful programs they might not have heard of before. Since I use Linux Mint as my primary operating system, all of these programs are Linux-compatible. Most of them are also compatible with other operating systems.
Qnotero – As previously discussed, Zotero is my go-to reference manager. But qnotero is what really seals the deal for me. It creates a shortcut on your task-bar that you can click to open a floating window that allows you to search your entire Zotero data-base. The search process is smooth, and you can directly open stored PDFs from the window. This is invaluable for writing papers and even as a quick reference during meetings.
Juice SSH – An SSH client for your Android phone. Obviously, the small keyboard of a phone is never going to be ideal for writing code. But if you need to make a quick fix or check the status of your jobs while on the go, Juice is the best app I’ve found. The tab complete and up-arrow go a long way towards speeding up your terminal usage. Even better, Juice supports mosh, a shell designed to gracefully handle flaky connections (as a mobile user is liable to have).
Gummi – I don’t know why, but when I’m writing something, I find it very reassuring to be able to see what the finished product will look like. Gummi is a LaTeX editor that features two panels: one with your raw code, and one that shows the PDF compiled from that code. On top of that, it has a feature that was surprisingly uncommon in LaTeX editors last time I looked: spell check.
LucidChart – This web application is my go-to for making flow-charts of any kind. You just drag the shapes that you want onto your canvas and click on edges to draw arrows between shapes. I don’t know why every other flow chart program I’ve tried to use has been so much more complicated than this. As an added benefit, LucidChart features integration with Google Docs. There are some features that require a premium account, but (at least when I last checked) you can get free access to premium features if you’re using them for education.
GGobi – I really enjoy large and complicated data sets. Usually, these data sets have a lot of variables that interact with each other in more than three dimensions. GGobi contains every trick in the book for visualizing high dimensional data. I’m sure all of these functions exist in R too, but GGobi just makes it so easy that I’ll often use it for my initial exploration of a new data set. The one downside is that GGobi does not handle large data-sets gracefully.
Scribus – This is by far my favorite open source desktop publishing program. When I need to make complicated multi-part figures that combine elements from different programs, this is my go-to. I’m normally pretty awful at lining things up so that they look tidy, so Scribus’ alignment, distribution, and guide line features are indispensable for me. As much as possible, I try to have my code output figures in their final form. But when I can’t, I’m glad I have Scribus.
What’s your favorite piece of under-appreciated software?