My Life with Multitops: using multiple types of laptops

It’s the end of the year, and I have a lot on my mind. So rather than deal with it, I am going to write about laptops. I have owned many laptops over the years, most of them have been refurbished or re-purposed from some other role. In many ways, I am a bit like a crazy cat lady, but instead of cats, I am surrounded by laptops. I tend to own and operate a few laptops because I have a few specific use cases with different hardware requirements. Rather than calling them laptops, I like to refer to them by the purpose that they serve for me.

  1. TypetopA big laptop that is suited for long typing sessions. In the past I wrote (and hacked, and coded) a lot more than I do now. I used to write papers for school, reports or emails for work, blog posts, or creative works. While my ideal writing environment is an office chair, large monitor and a buckling spring keyboard, any table with laptop that has a full-sized keyboard will do. I don’t consider these large and rather heavy machines to be mobile so much as portable. Of my fleet of laptops, the ones optimized for typing also tend to be the most expensive. This is the model that I normally go for when an employer is picking up the tab.
  2. NotetopA tiny laptop that is suited for note taking. I have spent many hours in lecture halls and the like taking notes for classes. I don’t really use a laptop for notes at work, unless I am the designated minutes-taker, for example when I worked at a startup company out west, or in my time on the board of directors at Hive13. For class room notes, nothing beats a small netbook, especially if you are also carrying around textbooks and paper notebooks. I found that the accessory pocket in a backpack kept the laptop from being smashed by textbooks. It’s too bad that the iPad pretty much destroyed the market for cheap netbooks, because I dearly loved those old MSI’s.
  3. JettopA burner laptop for travel. I used to travel to hacker conferences like DefCon, and you would occasionally need a laptop, but there was always a chance that something awful might happen to it. It might get stolen, it might get confiscated by law enforcement at an international border, it might get hacked by someone with way better skills than mine, or someone [like me] might drunkenly vomit on it or throw it out of a window. To minimize this risk, I would take a cheap laptop with minimal personal information and strong encryption. Once I started carrying a smartphone, I would also travel with an old flip phone, just to be safe. Later on, I would just take my work phone and turn off WiFi and Bluetooth. In later years, I bought a refurbished Chromebook and traveled with it. I found that a Chromebook along with a small Android tablet combined to make a good, lightweight, toolkit.
  4. ShoptopA laptop for hardware hacking. In the years I spent with Hive13, I was always in need of multiple ports to connect to things around the shop. I would use multiple serial or USB ports to connect to hacker hardware like Arduinos or old copiers and printers. Even today I occasionally need to plug in multiple large external hard drives to share pirated goods at events like 2600. In the past, I have found older laptops to be indispensable in these “workshop” environments due to their legacy ports. For me, workshops are also fairly dangerous places, where laptops get exposed to power tool mishaps, fire, and on more than one occasion, blood. It is these dangers, combined with a need for old ports, that I prefer to keep older laptops around, however under-powered they may become. I am not sure what I will do in the future, when even my eldest laptop has only a couple of USB ports. I suppose that a shoptop is the kind of thing that I should probably build myself. I keep wanting to get back into electronics, maybe a DIY shoptop would be a good way to get started.
  5. CrashtopA laptop for network configuration and troubleshooting Pretty much always the secondary function of a shoptop, looking into network crashes pretty much always requires a laptop. For a dude that tinkers with computers, I like to think that I have a decent grasp of networking. Not just cabling, but also routing, switching and even telephones. My home network is as much a lab as it is anything else. My main router has a console port, and while most of the network configuring I do is with SSH or a browser, sometimes you just need a laptop that you can physically plug in to a device. Of all the legacy ports to disappear from a modern laptop, I will miss the gigabit Ethernet port the most. Sure there are USB serial and Ethernet adapters, but those just aren’t the same as having the gear built right in. Also like the shoptop, I often think about either building a device, or maybe refurbishing a vintage device to troubleshoot networks with. I have always wanted a very industrial-looking 80’s device like the old Informer 213 for terminal-type stuff. At one point in my life, I had an old laptop that had a voice modem in it so that I could also mess with analog telephone lines.
  6. I am not in the market for a new laptop just yet. My typetop plays Skyrim and Fallout 4 decently. Plus it’s time for me to get into consoles again 🙂

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