Tools and Toys


…skip any definitive conclusions, as we know you might change those at any time. ????

@ron on

Ron was referring to my still-forming opinions about the reMarkable tablet, but he could be referring to any number of things. I have a reputation for frequently changing up my process/tools/systems/workflows/what-have-you. This reputation is not unfounded, but for some reason I feel the need to explain (defend?) myself.

Or perhaps it’s easier to describe what I’m not doing:

I am not looking for the perfect tool or system. I simply like to try new things.

Many people seem to assume that I’m wasting time constantly searching for some better, more-perfect solution. I don’t believe that’s it at all. I’m not wasting my time, I’m having fun!

Let’s look at note-taking and cameras as two good examples.

I don’t need any new note-taking tools. I don’t need a different process for taking notes. I don’t need to take smarter” notes. Note-taking is a solved problem. If I want to write something down, I open a text file and write it down. Now, that could be done using Vim or BBEdit or Emacs or whatever. Doesn’t matter, as long as what I’ve written is in a text file and I can find it later if needed. This would be different if I was an academic or an author working on a novel, but I’m neither of those.

However, I’m fascinated by how other people do things and the tools they use. I love seeing how different tools solve different problems for different people. I love novelty. This is why I started using Vim in the early 2000s when BBEdit worked just fine. I’d heard so many people rave about modal editing with Vim that I had to try it. Turns out they were right. Modal editing has informed nearly every text-editing decision since I learned it. One can’t dig into Vim without also hearing about how great Emacs is. I tried and failed to get into Emacs a few times, but then Spacemacs came along and made it easy for Vim users to adapt. Then Doom replaced Spacemacs because it was simpler and faster. And one can’t use Emacs without running into Org mode. Then Roam showed up and made automatic backlinks a thing, and I loved that. I still do. In fact, I still enjoy using all of them: BBEdit, Roam, Vim, Emacs, Craft, Obsidian, Logseq, Mem, iA Writer, Ulysses, and on and on. Hell, I still use paper about half the time.

It’s the same with cameras. I want to experience them all; big, small, cheap, expensive, old, new…all of them. I have or have had some of the (objectively) best” cameras ever made. (And no, the best camera is not the one you have with you if what you have with you is a shitty camera.) I don’t make photographs for a living, so it’s incorrect to describe a camera as just a tool.” For me, cameras are toys! Sure, I look for the ones that work well with the way I like to take pictures, but they all have good and bad qualities. I like trying cameras with varying combinations of those qualities.

This all happens because I want to try the things I read about. If someone writes passionately about something they use, whether it be software, hardware, or process, I want to try it for myself.

But let’s be clear, I don’t need any of it beyond a basic text editor and, say, my iPhone.

All this stuff is like a giant toy box. And much like Andy in Toy Story, sometimes I find a new favorite toy. This means that old favorites get left in the box for a time. Then one day I re-discover an old favorite and out it comes. There need not be anything definitive” about it.

Old friends