Through the Looking Glass

A Lighter Environment

Posted on September 12, 2017

I’ve recently switched up my personal computing environment from the tried-and-true Thinkpad and the XPS-13 in favour of a netbook; a few people have asked about it, so I figured I’d write up. A couple of things that motivated the change:

  1. I’m completely done tinkering with Linux or BSD or whatever in my spare time. Usually I don’t want to look at a computer; the rest of the time, I just want to build things, not screw around with a config file or tune kernel parameters.
  2. I’d like to be able to spend as much time offline as possible. The first year I lived in my current place, I didn’t have internet at home except via my phone (and the signal in my place is terrible). It was also one of the most technically productive times in my life, without all the noise and almost completely signal1.
  3. I like to work outside, which requires both a screen that works well there and a long battery life.
  4. I want to write more (but not sitting around the house), so I’d like a machine that’s small and can travel well. I also observe a strict separation between work and personal machines: if I want to work on something on the commute home, I need to have both machines.

  1. A big reason I’ve been offline lately is the SNR lately has been six nines of noise and almost no signal… “[he] speaks an infinite deal of nothing” and I’ve had no good contribution to the signal.

    So there’s a couple constraints. I didn’t want to spend much money on more gadgetry either. Then, I remembered I still had the Acer C720 Chromebook I picked up a few years ago. I’d corebooted it, so I quickly installed Debian unstable on it and started to build out an ansible config for it (and I finally put my dotfiles in git directly[fn:dotfiles]. It’s been working great, but the keyboard is still the terrible Chromebook keyboard; what I really wanted was something like the old eeepc I had before. I ended up with the Lenovo N22 winbook (that now runs Debian, not Windows) — it’s slower but has a longer battery life and a better screen.

    The details about that hardware aren’t terribly interesting, though. The most-used programs on it are emacs, chromium, and IPython; the latter two primarily because of the Udacity AI course I’m taking.

    Occasionally, I’ll need some more power. I’d previously purchased a relatively low-end HP Omen gaming laptop, and that’s still around if I need more power or more space. It’s enourmous, runs quite hot, and the battery doesn’t even last two hours (compared to the C720/N22’s 8+ hours), so it mostly lives powered off. I’ve also got the Jetson TX2[fn:jetson] running in my garage with an external 4T drive[fn:extdrive]; the three of them share data using syncthing, and I can SSH into the Jetson remotely; between these two, I have the extra power I need on my own hardware. It’s rare, though; the Jetson is useful more often for running longer tasks than it is for running resource-intensive tasks.