The use of ICT in the Library and Information sector has always been something that has interested me. This has lead me into various areas, such as the use of online catalogues – single, virtual and union – for interlibrary lending (while I was at SWRLS) research into best practices for digital curation, and my current interest in research data management.
In no particular order:
LaTeX – A typesetting program that generates DVIs (device independent printer files) or PDF documents from specially marked-up text files. It's a bit quirky; you can spend hours trying to get it to do something that your favourite word-processing package will do with two clicks, but you can also do things quickly and cleanly that get very messy and nasty in that same word processor. It's particularly strong on big documents with lots of cross-references, floating content and citations (like textbooks and theses), and it deals with mathematics, hyphenation and justification better than any other system. (Actually, a lot of that is down to the underlying TeX system, which also powers other macro packages like ConTeXt; ConTeXt, I think it is fair to say, is more functional than LaTeX 'out the box', but isn't as well supported with add-on packages.)
LaTeX is available for most (all?) platforms, but for a long time I only used it in earnest on Windows, where the only sane choice was the MiKTeX distribution or a derivative. For an editor, the best free one I've found so far is TeXnicCenter – its ability to handle arbitrarily many arbitrarily complex compilation profiles is its killer feature. Development stalled for a couple of years but happily a new programmer has taken it over and started things up again. LEd looks like being the next best thing, and is quite adaptable so long as you're comfortable writing your own raw batch files (!)
On Linux, the distribution of choice is TeX Live, named in contrast to TeTeX, which is dead. Having used TeX Live 2007 for a while, I came to realize just how much I'd been spoiled by MiKTeX (in terms of it being comprehensive, up-to-date, flexible). However, since the 2008 release TeX Live has come with a nifty package manager that allows one to manage a TeX installation in much the same way as with MiKTeX: one can install just the packages one needs, and get individual package updates as new versions are released. (For about seven months of the year. There are no updates between May and September or thereabouts, as the 'live' version gets frozen and a new version is developed.) The only trouble is that this package manager isn't included in the version of TeX Live you get in the mainstream repositories – from what I've seen there is a bit of discomfort about letting another package manager in on the system package manager's turf – so having an up-to-date system means either having two versions installed, installing all your TeX-dependent software by hand, or playing tricks on the system package manager using equivs. (I do the latter.) As far as an editor goes, I used to use Kile a lot, but I have since been won over by TeXworks; happily, TeXworks is equally at home on Windows.
For BibTeX bibliographies, there's no point in me recommending Jonas Bjornerstedt's BibEdit (for Windows) as it has disappeared from the Web, so I'll mention instead the rather more impressive (and cross-platform) JabRef; while you can simply use it as GUI for writing BibTeX files, it comes into its own when you use it (as well) to manage all the citeable documents you have on your computer or have come across on the Web. (One day I'll get around to organizing my PDF library in this way. . . .) And I should probably mention the experimental biblatex package, about which I could gush excitedly to anyone who asks. Suffice it to say, biblatex promises to be the answer to a lot of problems with BibTeX. If it doesn't topple natbib as the 'standard' way to do referencing in LaTeX within a year of official release (which happened in November 2010), I'll be very surprised. Okay, not that surprised, as legacy BibTeX is well embedded. But biblatex ought to be the standard, because it's that good. To take full advantage of all the wondrous features, though, we also need a version of BibTeX that can handle Unicode. There are in fact two in circulation. One is called BibTeXU, which is essentially BibTeX8 with Unicode support. The other is Biber, a complete re-implmentation using Perl. Biber not only handles Unicode, but smashes through BibTeX's memory limitations and unlocks some additional handy features in biblatex (at the expense of being comparatively slow). Biber is avaliable for both TeX Live and MiKTeX, though when I last checked BibTeXU was only available for TeX Live.
While I'm on the subject, I must mention gpdfx. It's a very simple application for extracting an area of interest from a PDF, and saving it as a smaller PDF for use as a figure in LaTeX (for example). I discovered it while looking for something else, but subsequently found it impossible to find with my search engines of choice, having forgotten the name. It's a Linux application, but if you can translate the bash script component into a DOS batch script you might be able to get it going on Windows.
- Lilypond – A bit like LaTeX for typesetting music, but scarier. It's really easy to do simple things, but as soon as you need to do something less ordinary, it gets very complicated very quickly. You may even find yourself programming in Scheme. It gives superb output, though, if you can get the hang of it.
- SumatraPDF – At just over 1MB, probably the smallest and sexiest PDF reader in the world. It's the work of one Krzysztof Kowalczyk, but being open source it means that heroes such as William Blum can add extra functions for LaTeX use: as of version 0.8.1, SumatraPDF automatically refreshes the display when the file has changed, and allows one to click on a line in a PDF and bring up the corresponding text in an editor, via links embedded by pdfsync or (as of version 0.9) the SyncTeX switch in pdfTeX 1.40.8 onwards (documentation at William's blog).
- Opera – A free browser that is remarkable in being both tiny (in disc and memory footprint) and fast, yet with more functionality and handiness than you can shake a stick at. It has an impressive security record, and is also highly configurable, although this can sometimes get a bit messy.
- Firefox – Another free browser. Its rendering engine is better catered for by web designers than that of Opera, and it has a nifty "extensions" capability that means it is relatively painless to extend its functionality. On the downside, it's a bit on the bulky side and suffers on slow machines and connections.
- Thunderbird – A free e-mail client from Mozilla. Same sort of pros and cons as Firefox, but preferable to Outlook Express.
- LibreOffice – Office suite rivalling MS Office. While it has some obvious benefits (it uses ODF as its native format, it's free, it can also handle MS Office documents) it also has some non-obvious ones, for instance the OOoLaTeX and OOoLilypond plugins. In terms of the Writer part of it, the only things I miss from MS Word are tables that auto-size to contents and vertical page alignment (useful for addressing envelopes, so the last line is at the bottom margin).
- Ubuntu Linux – I've been playing around with this since 2005, but finally took the plunge and moved my laptop over to Kubuntu in February 2008, when the RAM went bad and Windows couldn't cope. Having managed to get just about everything I wanted running smoothly on XP, it was a bit of a pain learning how to do it all again on Linux, but now it's all in place I'm really enjoying it.
My biggest hobby is music. At one point I was Grade VIII standard on the flute, and although I'm no pianist I can bash out the odd tune on a keyboard. I mainly sing nowadays, particularly with my local parish church choir and the St George Singers (see us in action); in times gone by I have sung with the Elizabethan Madrigal Singers (University of Wales, Aberystwyth), the Wykeham Singers (New College, Oxford), Wedmore Opera, and the Somerset County Youth Choir. I was also a founding member of a 3-5 part a cappella group called QuadWranglers (sadly no longer together), for which I contributed about a third of the music we performed – mostly light-hearted material.
Web design is something for which I have developed a morbid fascination, so there's really no excuse for the quality of the one I set up for my family in 2004. That one is a static website generated from dynamic source code, from before it was fashionable or indeed pleasant to do so. The site you are reading now grew out of the set of personal pages I maintained while at UKOLN; I hope to make this less and less obvious over time.
I confess to a weakness for "cult TV", from the early shows like The Avengers, The Prisoner and Doctor Who to the more modern ones like Being Human, Misfits and, er, Doctor Who.