I recently read Four Favorite Tools, a collection of essays from BoingBoing. I liked the style and the idea, so I thought I’d write about my four favorite tools.

Arduino hacking in NeoVim

There’s no competition: my favorite and most-used tool is NeoVim. This is a text editor, mostly for programming, but I use it for email and documents as well.

I write inside a unix terminal. People who are used to GUIs find the terminal clunky, but once you become accustomed to it, you’ll find it’s far and away the most efficient way to interact with a computer. By "efficient," I mean I can do the maximum amount of changing with the fewest keystrokes and arm movements. I can (and often do) wax a bit lyrical about vim and it’s many, many variants, but vim is worth it.

Note: I’m 30K words into a book written using NeoVim and markdown — and I’m writing this blogpost using a WordPress Markdown block — and I’ve found that Markdown is a pretty good basis for a long-ish book. The terminal+(Neo)Vim workflow lends itself naturally to keeping the book in version control in my GitHub account.

My 10-year-old Amprobe 37XR-A multimeter was the first tool I bought a second time. Before then I had a really cheap multimeter, I think the bottom-of-the-line that Adafruit offered. I bought the Amprobe at Fry’s because an old engineer recommended the brand to me. It’s a beast. I measure resistance, continuity, DC volts, and capacitance all the time (and DC current occasionally). This one has been to Burning Man 8 times, I just wash it with a little vinegar, soap and water in the sink when I get home. Really. It’s incredibly rugged, turns itself off automatically, and is accurate enough. I’ve got other multimeters now, and they’re much faster, more accurate, and have various cool features. This guy is the one I’m taking whenever I leave the lab. It’s been with me as I learned to be a maker, and I really like it.

Ratcheting wire strippers were truly one of the pieces that got me making. I couldn’t figure out how to strip wires without destroying strands, and the frustration built over several months until I got my first pair of these. I’ve got a few, various brands, and they’ve all been terrific. They work across a really wide range of wire gauges and insulation thicknesses. Nice.

The DeWalt DCF680 is a magical tool. It’s motion-activated. The idea is that you align the tool to the screw or bolt you intend to turn, push and hold the black button, then with a flick of the wrist in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, it turns. You control the speed of the tool with the strength of the flick.

After I used it for about 10 minutes, I found it incredibly intuitive. There are a variety of other power screwdrivers like this, notably the tiny motion control screwdriver Adafruit sells. I have a tiny one, and it’s nice, but the cheaper and vastly more powerful DeWalt is also subtler: I find that I can control the speed of the DeWalt with a lot of precision. Furthermore, the clutch on the DeWalt lets me set and then screw something until the clutch slips, no thinking and no stripping. Great stuff.

I have a bunch of other tools I’m really, really enjoying right now. Some are new, like the Siglent SPD1305x power supply makes controlling voltage and current so easy that it greatly reduces the chance I’ll blow something up with a short or reversed polarity. Or the soon-to-be-discontinued Rigol 1054Z which I’m slowly learning to use. Others I’ve used for decades, like the unix shell environment and tools. I’ll close with two slides from a talk I gave at the Linux Foundation a few years ago. I love tools.

What are your favorite tools?