My friend Chris pinged me this morning with some interesting stuff he did to get one of the old MacBook Air 11" machines up to speed as a Linux laptop with SSD and battery upgrades. I suspect there is an 11" machine sitting in Ben’s closet under a pile of superannuated and busted up Chromebooks, but he’s keeping “19-year-old home from college for the summer” hours, so I may not be able to know for sure until … later.

The 11" Air is possibly my favorite Mac of all time. I think they landed around the time of the netbook craze, and I may have replaced an eeePC with one. I am pretty sure that’s the machine that may or may not be in Ben’s possession. I tried to replace it with the 12" MacBook, and that was just a terrible idea.

Chris put this in front of me about the time two ideas were going through my head, one he was surely reacting to and another that only occurred to me last night:

The first is just me pulling on a thread from the whole iPad-as-travel-machine post which was, after some back and forth with Luke, revealed to be less about whether iPads are good travel machines and more about how contrived and dubious the whole “iPads are too full-time machines” proposition is. And, outside the practicalities, how I am beginning to feel like there is something actively harmful about the proliferation of computing form factors when so much of the “discourse” about iPads from tech enthusiasts seems to be “I already have two other computers plus a giant phone, but I added this fourth form-factor in the hopes I could carry less, but nope, it doesn’t work very well, so now I have this thing sitting here that took energy and resources to make that nobody actually needed.”

Because we live in Neoliberal Land, or “under capitalism,” or however you want to tee it up, we are just further wearing a familiar pattern into the conversational dance floor. You’re either already there, and screaming at the obtuse middle aged guy who’s finally getting around to trying to think this thought all the way through, or wary and cagey and preparing to feel resentful about the possibility of a scolding over the horizon, or indifferent, or even hostile because you think that it is a mark of civilizational greatness that we have the privilege and luxury of agonizing over no fewer than five tiers of iPad comprising dozens of variations in size, power, and capacity, and that it is a comforting token of our liberties that we can go spend $2,500 on the all-in version of an iPad Pro to prove to ourselves we don’t actually need an iPad Pro.

I come bearing neither olive branch nor sword on this matter. If blogs are bars or watering holes, this particular one involves the bartender questioning his life choices in front of you, not demanding that you do the same.

The other idea was just realizing last night, as I shuffled some services back over from Google to Fastmail, that the thought that I might need to reconfigure a mail client was only fleeting, because without even thinking about it much or deciding anything, I’ve been living out of a browser for email and calendar for months now. It takes me a few seconds to even tell you if I’m using the Fastmail iOS client or web UI. The three computing things I don’t reliably do in a browser these days are Lightroom, Emacs/BBEdit, and terminal stuff. Subtasks fall out of those high-level things, like writing a script or whatever, but mostly I just use whatever the web app is for most of my day-to-day. I’ve even descended into the savagery of just writing RFCs in Google Docs from a template I made instead of composing them in Markdown and converting them later.

In other words, the idea of cleaning up that 11" Air and sticking Mint on it is sort of appealing. I haven’t messed around with a desktop Linux in a long time, and 11" Airs are nice coffee shop or travel machines, and I may well just happen to have one sitting around. No idea how well the Lightroom web app would run on that thing, but I’m sorta surprised to see that it is aware of all my presets and custom profiles.

Anyhow: thanks, Chris, and food for thought.