The computer hardware I use, on a daiy basis, changes from year to year. Not simply because I pick up new, faster, shinier gear… often these changes revolve more around aging, “retro” computing equipment. Over time, I refine my workflow – focusing in on the types of software and hardware I most enjoy working with.
Sometimes that's new gear. Sometimes old. Sometimes really old.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun (at least for me) to catalogue exactly what hardware (and corresponding software) I use – on a regular basis – in my work and personal life. In the future I can revisit to see how my needs and preferences change over time.
This also serves to answer (at least in part) the questions I get about my workflow. I talk a bit about some of this gear – some of them multiple decades old – as I tend to feel very strongly about them… but I haven't talked much about how it all fits together. Two birds, one stone.
“The Temptest” is my video production rig. Custom built by the folks at Pogo Linux in early 2019.
- Intel i9 9900K, liquid cooled
- 32gb of RAM
- Nvidia RTX 2070
- 9tb of storage
- Debian Testing
- Wired PS/2 keyboard and trackball mouse
This is, by far, the beefiest rig I use. This thing is an absolute monster. A silent, 1980's themed, gorgeous monster. Runs Linux (Debian) exclusively. Using OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) for recording shows. Kdenlive for video editing. Audacity for audio editing.
How I use it: I'll bring over articles from other machines to prepare for final publishing to Lunduke.com. I tend to not use The Tempest for writing the bulk of my words… more for final edits, formatting tweaks, and uploading to the web server. The shows (both the video episodes and audio podcast), on the other hand, are produced entirely on The Tempest. Beginning to end. Typically I'll record the full show using OBS, then publish the video and audio directly from there to LBRY, YouTube, and the audio podcast to my own servers.
On the other end of the “beefiness” spectrum… “The Slab” is a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 102 “laptop” from 1986.
- 80C85 at 2.4MHz
- 32kb of RAM
- Monochrome 40x8 character LCD
- The best keyboard on any laptop
- 20+ hours of battery life on a few AA batteries
Yes. I absolutely use this machine. Not every day, but every week. And for many hours at a time.
The insanely nice keyboard (seriously, there's no laptop like it) coupled with the crazy battery life makes this one of the most pleasant computers to write on. The limited storage (32kb of RAM) makes working on full length books a bit problematic… but it works great for articles. Just like this one.
How I use it: The Slab is used entirely for extended spurts of writing. Any time I want to sit down and just write without distractions. I then utilize a little modem emulator to move the article off The Slab and over to another computer for publishing (or to a Micro SD card for back up).
“Lil Duder” is a Toshiba Libretto 50ct laptop from 1996. This is one of the more recent additions to my regular computing life (thanks to an amazing dude that let me adopt it).
- Pentium 75
- 32mb of RAM
- 640x480 VGA, TFT screen
- Soundblaster Pro compatible audio
- 8gb SD card for hard drive (2gb FAT partitions)
- MS-DOS 6.22 + Windows 3.11 + DESQview/X
If you've never seen a Toshiba Libretto… they're little. These are, basically, Netbooks… long before there were Netbooks. In fact, it's closer to a Palmtop in size and style. The keyboard is small… but oddly high quality and surprisingly usable, considering the teensy-tiny-ness. And, yes, I run DOS on it.
Side note: I also have SD cards (which I use via an IDE adapter to repace the hard drive) running OS/2, Windows 98, FreeDOS, older Linux, and a few other operating systems. But it tends to be an MS-DOS + DESQview/X machine. Though that is a pretty recent setup… so we'll see if I stick with that configuration long term.
How I use it: “Lil Duder” has a weird place in my workflow. Sometimes I'll plug in a full size keyboard (via the PS/2 ports on a dock) to do some writing (typically in WordPerfect 5.1). DOS machines make great writing partners. I then move documents around via the same modem emulator method I use with “The Slab.” This has also been my primary gaming rig lately (lots of DOS games).
Honestly, this machine ends up being more of a desktop than a laptop. It goes into the dock. Keyboard and mouse plug into the PS/2 ports. VGA monitor and speakers get plugged in as well. It's a small laptop… doubling as a Pentium DOS desktop.
I don't have a great nickname for my Nokia N810… I always simply call it “The N810.” But, lack of nickname aside, I love it. Been a regular user of these since they first came out in 2007.
- 400 MHz TI OMAP 2420
- 128mb of RAM
- 2gb onboard flash, 8gb Mini SD card
- 800x480 4.1” TFT
- Slide-out, thumb keyboard
- Maemo Linux (Debian based)
How I use it: This is my PDA. Notes, contacts, calendar, to do lists, that sort of thing. Almost everything I do is in plain text files in some way – and predominantly edited via command line applications. This mostly takes the form or Linux shell applications… with the occasional DOS application running in DOSBox. Files are then transfered around via the Mini SD card or plugging in the N810 via USB to another computer, which mounts the storage as removable media. Technically I can use WiFi to upload files directly from the N810 but, in practice, I seem to prefer “Off-Line” moving of files.
Could I use the N810 to write articles… and even books? Could I publish the entirety of the written works at The Lunduke Journal via this glorious little hand-held?
You bet I could. But I don't. For me, the N810 is a PDA. That's its place in the universe. I rather dig that it could be used for much more… but I don't need it to.
“Deep Dish” (because of the resemblance to a pizza box) is a 1995 Power Macintosh 6100/66 with a DOS Compatibility Card.
- PowerPC 601 66MHz
- 32MB of RAM
- 700MB SCSI Hard Drive
- 2X CD-ROM, 1.44 Floppy
- MacOS 8.6
The DOS Compatibility card (which is kinda just a full PC on a card inside the Mac) has the following specs:
- 486 DX2 / 66MHz
- 32MB of RAM
- Sound Blaster
- Shared drive storage with the 6100
This machine has been getting more and more usage over time. In large part because it is, essentially, two mid-1990s PCs in one: a 66MHz Macintosh and a 66MHz DOS PC. For Mid-1990s gaming, it really doesn't get much better than that. Plus I love the Apple keyboards from this period… they have a great feel and sound to them. I love their “click.”
How I use it: Like with my other machines, I do some writing here. Files from this machine tend to get moved either via the Ethernet (most often over to “The Tempest”) or via the same modem emulation I use on some other machines. I don't know that I use one method of file transfer more than another. I'm also honestly not sure if I use the Mac side or PC side more… kind of a toss up.
“Deep Dish” is a bit of a work in progress machine. I plan to replace the internal SCSI hard drive (a loud, spinning beast) with a flash to SCSI adapter. This will not only be faster, but reduce the sound (so much quieter) and give a huge storage boost. I'd also like to add some external flash storage (perhaps a SCSI->SD adapter) to make moving files around even easier. The dual computer nature of this machine – plus the abundance of ports and storage – make it a great “central hub” machine for moving files around.
The Missing Laptop
Something worth pointing out about the computers I utilize the most… is that I don't have a “real” laptop in there. Sure, I've got the TRS-80 Model 102… but that is really only for writing. And the Toshiba Libretto, while an amazing laptop, is too small to do extended periods of writing without an external keyboard.
Up until fairly recently I had a PowerBook 180c that I used as one of my main writing laptops. Great keyboard, trackball (before touchpad mice became all the rage), 12MB of RAM… an old 68k Mac running MacOS 7.5.x. Just a really fun machine to write on.
But, as is the way with some aging hardware, the screen (a lovely little 8.4”, 640x480 TFT) is having trouble. Luckily I know there aren't any leaking batteries or the like in her… but that little beauty is in need of repairs. One day I'll get to them. Until then, the PowerBook 180c is benched.
Will I find a different laptop – a great writing companion – to fill that place in my workflow? Will it be something new (maybe from Dell or System76 or Purism)? Will it be something older? Will I break down and get the 180c fixed up? Who knows. Time will tell.
A little bit of everything
A healthy dash of Linux. More than a little DOS. Some MacOS (classic, naturally). While I wouldn't mind adding an Amiga desktop (perhaps with a Video Toaster) and a PalmOS PDA to the mix (just for the heck of it)… I gotta say, I'm quite happy with the variety of computing environments I get to play with every week.
Makes me smile.
And that's really what it's all about. I feel a connection – a bond – to each of these machines. They have distinct personalities, and I know them inside out. When I sit down in front of each, I feel a sense of… being home.
That's how computing should be.
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