A machine for peaceful computing

slice of life

Sometimes I think about buying an old PowerPC Mac, installing MacOS 9, and creating a small island of computing peace for me. Often this idealized machine of retrocomfort morphs into a different device, and sometimes I wish it was a G4 iMac running MorphOS, or an Amiga running AmigaOS 4.1.

I have realized long ago that it is not about the OS, but what you do with it. When running Windows/macOS/Linux/Haiku, I tend to approach the machine with a current day; work mentality mindset and the machine quickly becomes boring and just a tool to help pay the bills. The current machines are not limited in any way that affects what I am talking about it, the limitation in this case lies in the user himself (himself is defined as Andre, or SoapDog, or CoffeeFox for a more mathematically verifiable definition of Andre since we can’t really prove he is a dog or made of soap, but we can prove his involvement with both foxes and coffee). When given a machine that can be used to perform work related activities, I will think about working when using it. I will switch from whatever fun thing I am doing to explore work related activities outside my work hours. I need a dream machine that is less powerful, or at least less capable, of doing my work so that I can enjoy it guiltless and without the constant context switch of thinking that I should alt-tab into work.

Mac OS 9 is a very comfortable OS for me. I used it for a long time and used to know the ins and outs of it. Still, many things I enjoy doing these days will eventually touch the Internet and without up to date crypto stuff, I can’t really get such machines to work for the kind of tasks I know I will want to use them for, even though I haven’t defined them yet.

Using old machines is also a constant exercise in repair and acquiring surplus. I did have a ton of stuff in Brazil but I don’t plan to keep growing my collection of stuff in London. It is already too big. Because of that I noticed that I need to define better what exactly I want, so that I can learn what I need to buy or build. I already have too many modern computers here to get one more.

What do I want to do with it?

The meaning of peaceful computing will vary from person to person, I have no clue what you find peaceful, I do know that most of my friends will have the wrong preconceived notion about what I think about it. Many will think that I want a machine I can program in peace. My friends tend to see myself as a software developer, which is also how I am often introduced to people, but I don’t see myself as a software developer. Programming is something I do, something I have always done — always just mean more than 25 years in this case — but it is not who I am. I love to tinker and developing stuff is part of tinkering. I love to create, and programming is an act of creation. But, software development is my job and even though I work in a very peaceful environment, I don’t regard working as a peaceful activity. Working is stressful by nature for me. Even when given agency over my projects, even with cool co-workers and a good task, working is always stressful.

I am at peace when I am writing. I see myself as a storyteller. A fox who drinks too much coffee, takes a bath, forgets to take all the soap off, puts on a costume of a dog, and goes out into the world telling amusing, and sometimes even truthful, stories. Even though social networks and feed algorithms are constantly driving us into despair and doomscrolling, I’m also happy when consuming blogs, feeds (specially from decentralized networks), and reading cool stuff. People in more realtime connection with me will know that I share lots of links and tend to know a lot about where the strange programming devices and languages are. I’m a hoarder of stories with an interest in programming, but I don’t want my dream machine for programming. I have other machines for that purpose. I want a machine for reading and writing.

A cyberdeck maybe?

To be able to consume the content I want, I need a machine that is able to connect to the modern decentralized platforms and the web. This makes old retrocomputing machines less interesting as a ton of time would actually be used into getting them online and browsing the content I want instead of actually enjoying reading and writing. Because of that I have been gravitating towards building a cyberdeck. I could go quite fancy with it with a planck keyboard, and be guaranteed to have a ton of inspiration material available.

As I journeyed deeper into this cyberdeck forest, I realized a very important thing: the computer doesn’t actually matter.

It is not about the computer

A cyberdeck running Linux with XFCE is just another computer for me to wonder if I should actually be working. What is important to me is the interface. I want an interface that keeps $dayjob away and let me be a storyteller and a listener. This interface can be built on top of $whatever, it doesn’t really matter, and it can be built using the computers I already own. Once, I’m happy with it, if I feel the need, I can transport it into a cyberdeck for added coolness.

I think I know what I want to build…

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