back to article Mind the airgap: Why nothing focuses the mind like a bit of tech antiquing

The modern always-on workplace isn't designed for everyone. And that's why a search for a coping strategy for dyspraxia* took me to eBay, where I bought an archaic Apple iBook for the princely sum of £40 (excluding shipping). The goal was to have a dedicated writing workstation, where I could do my best work without any …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What looks like gobbledegook

    to supposedly normal people, makes perfect sense to us odd balls.

    We just see the world differently to others but far too refuse to accept that people can be different to them.

    Well done for describing dyspraxia. I have that and dsylexia and I'm a leftie to boot.

    In some places that alone is a sign that you have been touched by the devil himself.

    We manage and mostly we are able to hide our problems from the world at large.

    As for the iBook... Indeed. I have an old Macbook that has a duff wi-fi (it is a 2008 model) and the RJ45 port is iffy but it runs CentOS 5.x perfectly. I can't remember the last time I actually even tried to connect it to the internet. I guess it was around 2017 as that is the date of the kernel.

    It is my go to device for working offline. No distractions means that I can get work done.

    Great article. Not everything we do is a step forward.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What looks like gobbledegook

      I don't think just because you can learn something and understand it properly makes you an "Oddball".

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: What looks like gobbledegook

        I beg to differ...

        1. Kane Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: What looks like gobbledegook

          "I beg to differ..."

          Username checks out.

      2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: What looks like gobbledegook

        I think you missed the OP's point, that's why you're getting downvotes.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Distractions...

    For all the newfound emphasis on productivity, driven by apps like Slack and Trello, you can't help but feel as though they're anathema to actually getting stuff done.

    Add MS Teams to the list - upvote 1,000,000. Bane of my life ever since it's been introduced to the org.... ooh, we'll just see if X is available and dial them in.

    1. MrMerrymaker Bronze badge

      Re: Distractions...

      Teams is terrible. I was hoping the work from home thing might lead to LESS disruptively common team meetings.

      Instead it's just, I dunno, sort of a way for people to reach other team members, or for managers to "check" on us or whatever.

      Unfortunately my webcam has "broken".

      1. Mathman
        Pint

        Re: Distractions...

        Just set your status to "Do not disturb" and everyone will see your red light status and assume you are on another important call.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Distractions...

          In my experience, Do Not Disturb is just yet another status colour, for people who will try and get hold of you anyway and for Teams which doesn't stop people contacting you (at least Skype for Business' Do Not Disturb actually did something). The best that will happen is that notifications will stop but the desktop badge in the taskbar still flashes.

          I've found the most effective way of stopping interruptions is setting it to appear away, that way nobody sure if you're away or not.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Distractions...

            > I've found the most effective way of stopping interruptions is setting it to appear away, that way nobody sure if you're away or not.

            Were those people contacting you just for a chat or do they have a job to do as well and need your help? If your workload doesn't allow for helping others then you should be speaking to your manager. If your personality doesn't allow for helping others then don't be surprised when the company eventually decides that you're no longer an asset.

            1. Dan 55 Silver badge
              Meh

              Re: Distractions...

              The immediacy of IM slows everyone down whereas with an email you have to spend time composing it saying what you've tried and have discounted.

              I will happily help but I'm not going to spend all day taking quieres due to a chronic lack of documentation. Anyway, by not being immediately available, I find that many questions get answered by themselves.

              The manager is a workaholic who doesn't believe in documentation, but I am not. If that doesn't make me an asset, so be it. I'm way past that threat, as should most people who have spent more than a decade in IT.

              1. Rafael #872397
                Megaphone

                Re: Distractions...

                The immediacy of IM is bad enough. But what really gets my goat is people who are /so important/ and /so much busier than you/ that they send Whatsapp audio messages instead of short texts.

                Depending on who is sending I cannot just ignore it, and am treated to several seconds of "erm, hum, well, you see..." from a mouthbreather.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Distractions...

              Interruptions have constantly come up in our various meetings about timekeeping. One of the biggest hits to productivity and accurate time recording is when you are constantly having to do mental context switching to answer a question, or getting a "quick" job lobbed at you when in the middle of something longer term.

              We have implemented a written interruption policy now to try and prevent this. The allowed interruption type depends on how critical the issue is. Low priority is email, next is chat, highest is a phone call or desk visit. I now generally only check email a couple of times a day and will respond to chat requests when I get to a natural pause point in whatever I am doing. Works well.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Distractions...

        "I was hoping the work from home thing might lead to LESS disruptively common team meetings."

        You need two computers. One for work & the other for teams. The latter, with its slightly dodgy network connection, could have its camera pointing to you working solidly on the other.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Distractions...

          OBS Virtualcam, for all your looping video needs.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Distractions...

      Try working somewhere that has,

      Teams

      Slack

      Zoom

      BT Meetme

      ServiceNow

      Confluence

      Jira

      Sharepoint

      Outlook

      WhatsApp

      For all its sins email is still the only Ubiquitous messaging platform.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Distractions...

        So, which member of my team are you AC?

        Your great leader commands that you reveal yourself :-D

      2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Distractions...

        - BT Meetme

        + Skype

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Distractions...

          Surely you mean sh*&eSkype for Business?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Distractions...

        Oooh, this puts you in one side of the company and not us upstarts (we don't use Sharepoint)...

  3. Tubz

    Old school is cool!

    1. monty75

      Indeed. Might have to go rummaging in the loft for my white plastic iBook now.

    2. Glen 1 Silver badge

      I remember working on a loaner ibook thingy years ago.

      Thought id try to put Ubuntu on it. It was a slot loader, so I burn a CD (DVD?) and put it in the slot.

      Nothing. The drive didn't want to take the disk. There was a foam seal around the opening that was holding the disk in place.

      I hadn't used a slot loader before,so I wasn't sure if there was a knack. I *gently* applied pressure, and the disk slid in.

      *CLUNK*

      I pick the device up

      *RATTLE*

      Turns out the previous owner had removed the drive, and Id just posted the disk into an empty drive bay.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Back when I was uni in the 1990s (UEA) they had a Macintosh Lab stocked with large Macs with two floppy drive slots but mostly only fitted with one drive. It took them a while to seal off all the empty slots so that they didn't have to keep opening up the cases to retrieve the stack of 3.5" floppies the students had piled up inside.

        1. Muscleguy Silver badge
          Boffin

          They sound like Mac LC’s. The Dept had class sets of those for the teaching labs. I would get one in the holidays or when the 2nd years were doing other stuff, like blood pressure. I was writing my PhD thesis, when not demonstrating the labs and tutoring for extra money (wife and 2 kids).

          Good fun was being called over by worried Med students who found the lab too noisy to do a BP (stethoscope method, now superseded*). So I would do it, pretending to listen and give them a BP. You watch the mercury column when it just starts to vibrate as it reduces, that’s systolic. When it stops vibrating, that’s systolic.

          *Even with automated machines the Med students are still taught to do it the old fashioned way. In a disaster scenario there may not be any power. Similarly bags of blood are labelled by hand in indelible marker. They have barcodes too, but again in a disaster scenario . . .

      2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        A friend was on IT support for the Met in the early days of desktops (and 5.25 in floppies)

        Got called to some very senior officer who was having problems. "I keep putting the floppy disks in but I can't get them out"

        Turned out there was a narrow gap between ill-fitting lid and body of case and he'd been feeding them in there.

        1. DJV Silver badge

          That reminds me of a tale I heard when on a course at the Unisys training building in Milton Keynes back in the late 1980s. Their Unisys (ex-Burroughs) B25 systems (which were actually rebadged Convergent Technology NGENs) were built as clip-together modules where a module might be a CPU unit, a hard disk unit, a 5.25 floppy drive unit etc. The idea was that you could start with a small system and built it up as required, even to the point of exchanging the CPU module for a more powerful one such as upgrading from a 286 to a 386 (well, it was the 1980s!).

          Someone had apparently been sold a second hand system and couldn't understand why it couldn't read the floppies and phoned up Unisys for some support. The engineer trying to help had trouble understanding what was going on for a while as the customer claimed the floppy slot didn't have an open/close lever. Finally, it dawned on the engineer that the customer had been sold two units, none of which contained a floppy drive, and they were trying to insert the floppies into the slim gap between the two units they did have!

          For those who have never seen these machines before there's a picture showing two units clipped together here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burroughs_B20. The slot the customer was shoving floppies into was the one directly below the centre of the monitor in that pic.

        2. Rob Daglish

          Ah, been on both sides of that one... As a kid wondering if the gap was big enough to get an entire 5.25" disc in (it was). And as a PFY having to take apart machines where people had found out that although the hole was big enough for a 5.25" disc, it wasn't where they were supposed to go...

      3. TomPhan

        In the 1990's I (very briefly) worked at a place where all the PCs had their floppy and CD drives removed so that staff (below director level of course) couldn't install anything which would distract them from company business.

        Which meant any time anything official had to be done the PC needed disassembling, a drive installing, the software run, then the drive was removed and the PC put back on the desk.

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I have a few of these babies!

    I have lots of old Apple gear, (all free of cost!) My fav is the PowerBook 12". I have G3s, G4s and G5s... Call me Mr. Peabody!

    1. The Sprocket

      Re: I have a few of these babies!

      I have to agree. But even if one uses the Powerbook 12" or iBook (as per the article), even simple limitations start to set in. I was noticing this on my last gen of 12" iBook G4.

      - No can wirelessly connect to home 5G. I have to use slower option

      - No near-current browsers work with it (even TenFourFox is lethargic). Web is OUT.

      - Email providers are advancing their connection requirements that are leaving this kit behind.

      But if you DON'T need much connectivity, why not? I still use my 12" iBook G4 (late 2005) quite often! And FTP still works a treat!

      1. Richard Crossley

        Re: I have a few of these babies!

        I have an old laptop with a reasonable 1400x1050 screen which I use as an RDP client. It means I can run modern software on a VM in the office and use the RDP client software to connect whilst I sit with the family.

  5. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

    After multiple tests it was concluded that my nervous system hadn't fully formed and for the most part I would grow out of it. Didn't help one bit with the dyslexia though (hate that word. It's cruel to have to try and remember which letter goes where in it).

    I too have a retro laptop because it's much nicer to type on than newer machines (lenovo x200t, the thing is a tank and has my second favourite keyboard to type on).

    I do wonder if there is any new machines with really good keyboards anymore? (the wife's new asus lappy isn't terrible but it's still not got enough key movement for me to be happy).

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

      Try learning a foreign language with it. In German, it isn't any easier: die Legasthenie.

      I have mild dyspraxia and dyslexia. A real pain for somebody who spends all day writing. I've taught myself to cope with it in most things and generally have to re-read everything I write 3 - 4 times. One of the things I hate with the Register forums, I'll come back after an hour and find I have written total nonsense, despite re-reading it, but I can't correct it.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

        I've tried.. My dad also had a thing for Welsh ofr a while as well which was madness inducing.

        On the flipside I married a girl who can speak in 6 different languages which is a feat I could never achieve (though I can at least order food in Spanish, Italian and Malay.)

        As for the down votes, would the commentard care to explain?

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

          "As for the down votes, would the commentard care to explain?"

          I think it works like this. You commented on something which someone wrote which was utter bollocks; so much so that whoever wrote it can't argue back. Most of us in that position would be able to say "OK" and move on. Occasionally someone can't so all they can do is follow you round downvoting you.

          Wear your downvotes with pride. They mean that whatever you wrote was write and somebody's acknowledging it.

          1. Glen 1 Silver badge

            Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

            "Occasionally someone can't so all they can do is follow you round downvoting you."

            After a fairly recent anti-Brexit rant, I found that my downvote total had more than doubled. Hundreds of downvotes in the space of a few days. No single post had a notable (new) spike. Flipping through my post history, I found that 1 or 2 new downvotes had appeared on my posts going back nearly a decade.

            Nice to know I touched a nerve.

            1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

              Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

              You're not the only one... rather than attempt to argue (or discuss rationally) it went down to a sudden flurry of downvotes on that and alll recent posts, even entirely unrelated and innocuous ones.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

        I don't have dyspraxia or dyslexia, but I too will come back after an hour and find I have written total nonsense, despite re-reading it, but I can't correct it.

        Eheu fugaces labuntur anni, as we used to say when I was a kid.

      3. BebopWeBop Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

        I don't have either, but I also occasionally come back to a posting and realise what I have written is gobledygook - so you are in good company

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: I was suspected of Dyspraxia...

      " Didn't help one bit with the dyslexia though (hate that word. It's cruel to have to try and remember which letter goes where in it)."

      Until someone pointed out that it is an anagram of daily sex (with sex being the only thing written forwards) neither could I...

  6. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    Does it smell?

    Apparently a lot of iBooks smell like sweat, something to do with the glue used in the keyboard: https://lowendmac.com/2006/a-stinky-old-ibook-that-smells-like-sweat/

    I've got a 2007 BlackBook (MacBook 2,1) which is about the easiest machine to install Libreboot on (all done in software), now running Trisquel Lite.

    1. MatthewHughes

      Re: Does it smell?

      It doesn't! And very few marks, either. The previous owner clearly took care of it.

      1. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Re: Does it smell?

        Mine doesn't smell either, but it did succumb to what was apparently common with the model ("Dual USB iBook" in my case). If you have that one, which I agree is lovely, you might want to buy some tea-lights, or some such, for when the video goes into witness protection. At present, mine works fine over VNC, but neither the LCD nor the VGA output is intelligible. Lots of opinion on the interwebs, ranging from the aforementioned tea-lights to more vigorous applications of heat. I've not gotten the nerve to try it yet.

        But it is allegedly possible.

  7. TheProf Silver badge
    Meh

    At a loss

    I don't understand this. The author of this piece has spent £40 plus carriage to by an old laptop that doesn't connect to his home network and this allows him to work without interruption.

    Wouldn't the same effect be achieved by simply turning off the wifi at home?

    1. MatthewHughes

      Re: At a loss

      I don't know why, but it just doesn't work like that for me. I've tried, but I need to physically distance myself from my "main" laptop and work from a completely distraction-free computer.

      It may not make sense to you, but it does to me!

      1. DemeterLast

        Re: At a loss

        It makes 100% sense to me. Years ago I refurbed an SE/30 (actually an SE with a motherboard swap) to use strictly for writing and some programming. Paired with an old Apple Extended Keyboard II (easily one of the best keyboards ever made), it was a very good dedicated machine.

        Of course, WiFi is not possible on that machine... or was it? Adding a PDS Ethernet card, and plugging a cable into a disused WiFi router to act as an extender, I could move this to the quietest corner of the garage and work. The only Web browser available was an ancient version of iCab, so any distractions were limited, but I was able to send and receive files without having to resort to chasing down a floppy (ye gods!) or dealing with an external SCSI drive.

        Man, I miss that upright form factor.

    2. H in The Hague Silver badge

      Re: At a loss

      "Wouldn't the same effect be achieved by simply turning off the wifi at home?"

      It might be too tempting to turn it on again :)

      Anyway, a lot of professional wordworkers like a change of environment (room, PC, etc.) if they want to really concentrate on a job, or if they're revising work done in their usual environment. Seems to help reset/focus the little grey cells.

      1. Bryan B

        Re: At a loss

        That change of environment can be incredibly important in all sorts of ways - I used to do it myself, with an ancient monochrome laptop.

        I think of it as similar to what anthropologists call 'liminality'. It's a different space with different rules. The lack of liminality is also why some people don't get on with home-working - they have lost the spatial and mental borders or boundaries that normally define work and home (or not-work).

    3. keithpeter
      Coat

      Re: At a loss

      Or in my case just pulling the USB WiFi adaptor out of its socket...

      I find it easier to focus on things if I set up a special environment for the activity. E.g. when preparing maths lessons I have an old shoebox with the regulation scientific calculator, the maths instruments, a clip board and white paper, pencils, blank 'short' lesson plan templates and the recommended textbook and revision guide. This box is kept in a bureau of the kind where a flap folds down to provide a work table. Once planned up and written out, I hit the laptop and assemble/edit the resources and check the Web sites for video snippets. That way I'm selecting the resources that fit my plan for a specific class and not letting the available resources drive the plan.

      Perhaps it is the same for writers who compose on the screen. A physical device associated with a specific location may be the mind trick that drops them into the 'flow state'. £40 might not appear expensive in that case.

      I miss three pieces of software from my MacOS days: Preview, Textedit and Eastgate systems' Tinderbox. Preview could copy diagrams and snippets from a PDF file and paste them into textedit as vector images. Textedit was 'rich' enough for my needs. You could probably project manage something like a feature film with Tinderbox.

    4. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: At a loss

      Turn off wifi on the machine or your Mrs and the Children will be must upset!

    5. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge

      Re: At a loss

      Circa 2000, my university library invested in a fleet of type-only devices (might have been called an "AlphaWriter" or something like that).

      These things had a 4 line by 60(?) column LCD display and amazing battery life. You could type as much as you want anywhere you wanted, including many symbols. You could even choose between 8 different "files" -- for some reason with different allowed character counts -- and every keystroke was saved. No drives or any moving parts: it was about as robust, and as "dumb", as a non-graphing scientific calculator.

      When the typing was done, you hooked it up to a PC using a PS/2 cable or Mac using ADB (cables came with it in a little carrying case), hit send/upload/whatever, and it essentially re-typed your entire text stroke by stroke, just way faster than mechanically possible (the speed was settable in case of compatibility issues).

      Not having my own laptop -- or even my own computer until about the same time -- I like being able to take it around the libraries for research. In November 2001, I started writing a creative piece on a bus ride home for Thanksgiving. Sure, the keyboard was terrible and overall it was too light and kept moving around -- even on a lap -- plus the display was very limiting, but it filled a need at the time and was convenient (and free for a week at a time).

      I wouldn't mind letting my kids bash on one instead of watching cartoons on their fancy-schmancy touchscreen full-video tablets. I personally would use one for work if all I did was type, but my job needs are different than those few assignments back in college.

      1. MatthewHughes

        Re: At a loss

        "Circa 2000, my university library invested in a fleet of type-only devices (might have been called an "AlphaWriter" or something like that)."

        The brand you're looking for is AlphaSmart. I used one of those in high school. It was a slightly newer version that used USB instead of PS/2. My original plan was to buy one, but they're ridiculously expensive now, partly due to the fact that they're no longer made, but also because they've become hugely popular with writers.

        I had my eye on one that ultimately went for about £100 on eBay.

        1. Robert Moore
          Pint

          Re: At a loss

          Hmm, I guess i will have to sell mine off. Thanks for letting me know they are valuable. :)

          1. Synonymous Howard

            Re: At a loss

            Retro kit is back big style which I put down to the Raspberry Pi effect ... in the early 2000s it was easy to pick up old kit for a few quid which now goes for hundreds of pounds. I've lost count of the amount of kit secreted around the house but it must run to at least 50 or 60 systems (most of them still functional).

            I have a fondness for VT-style terminals .. I still kick myself for getting rid of a broken APL programming terminal (a beautiful cast-iron heavyweight in blue/grey) which I would now retrofit with Pi's and Arduinos etc. Nothing beats a 70s/80s clickkerty-clackkerty keyboard for text entry joy!

        2. bobajob12

          Re: At a loss

          I've been wanting a similar device, a Cambridge z88, for years now. LCD screen has 4 lines of text and a virtually silent keyboard. Runs for 20 hours on a pair of AAs. for those days when yo need to get in the zone and hammer our a few thousand words without any interruptions.

          Maybe if I sent George R.R. Martin one, he, you know, might finish, his uh writing project?

          1. Synonymous Howard

            Re: Cambridge Z88

            I wrote up my CS PhD thesis on a Z88 back in the early 90s whilst sitting in the back garden and even wrote a serial driver for SunOS to let me upload the typed up LaTex to be able to render it 8-) It was bought from new and got pimped out a bit and still works along with the Rangerdisk floppy drive add-on. Lovely dead-flesh keyboard.

            I actually wanted to buy a PSION MC400 but could not afford it back then ... got a lovely one years later, magic kit and sits alongside a Psion 7 netboot nicely. Still miss Psion, sniff.

            1. fowljr

              Re: Cambridge Z88

              Ahhh, I agree. I miss my Psion Series 5 as well, which finally bit the dust earlier this year!!

      2. keithpeter

        Re: At a loss

        AlphaSmart Neo had usb, you plugged it in and pressed the button and your PC assumed it had a new USB keyboard and sent the 'input' to whatever window had focus.

        The previous AlphaSmart USB based devices that I had a few of about 10 years ago survived being lent out and taken home by various students very well. Clunky and unattractive so no theft, no user accessible software to mess about with, and no storage to lose. Just had to watch the AA batteries on the older models.

      3. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: At a loss

        I used a gadget called an Inteliwriter while in Uni in the late 80's. Don't ask the specs, I wasn't into tech at the time... I think this was it... https://typewriterdatabase.com/1988-sharp-pa3100-ii.10280.typewriter

    6. Greybearded old scrote

      Re: At a loss

      Briefly. The temptation to turn it back on, "Just for a few minutes," is too much.

    7. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: At a loss

      >Wouldn't the same effect be achieved by simply turning off the wifi at home?

      Not really -- there are often a lot of ther users and 'things' connected to the home network.

      Older kit tends to be more ergonomic in design and less focused on style -- the design focus was less on how it looked and how cheaply it could be made and more on how well it actually worked. There's been a gradual, but inexorable, shift from 'tool' to 'consumer device' in the design of kit, especially portable devices, resulting in things that look great but are just not very nice to use, especially for long periods of time.

      If this system desperately needed to be networked then there's a lot of ways to make it happen. Sure, it won't connect to typical moden WiFi network but most APs have a 'Guest' option which could use lower security -- provided you were prepared to deal with the security headaches. (I've got an old 802.11b AP that I use in this type of situation.....modern kit tends to be unsure about what exactly this is!)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: At a loss

        Look into OpenWRT to transform many older home routers into something more usable in today's world.

    8. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: turning off the wifi at home

      He's at home. If he does turn it off, there will be an instant revolutionary movement from all the other family members who need that wifi for WhatsApp, Slack, FaceBook, Twitter and whatever other medical drip they use on the thing that is grafted to their hands.

      Turning off the wifi at home is not an option.

    9. Day

      Re: At a loss

      What if there are other people in his household?

    10. Peter Ford

      Re: At a loss

      If you turn off the wi-fi you then can't work for the howls of anguish coming from the kids...

      Oh, you meant turn off the wifi on the laptop?

  8. Paul Cooper

    My late wife was a Learning Support Assistant for a child with dyspraxia, about 15 years ago; the child must now be in his early 20s! It is a strange one - the child was quite normal in many ways, but the things they find challenging are not always obvious. Physical clumsiness and inability to concentrate are the usual things that get noticed, but there's also a lack of connection between thought processes; it's difficult for the mind to make cross-links between topics. I suspect that what we call "lateral thinking" would be difficult for a person with dyspraxia.

  9. katrinab Silver badge

    I have a decade old mid-2010 13" MacBook Pro.

    I can install Office 2019 on it, connect to modern Wifi networks, and so on. The latest games will get about 1 frame per second, but apart from that, you can do pretty much everything you would want a modern laptop to do, just a bit slower.

    It is interesting how little technology has advanced in the last decade, compared to how much it advanced before that.

    I am typing this reply on a brand new 16" MacBook Pro. It is a better machine than the 10 year old one, just not that much better compared to any other decade in computing history.

    1. paulf Silver badge
      Happy

      My MBP is of the same vintage: Mid 2010 17" with CTO processor bump to the i7 option and the anti-glare screen. The keyboard has proper travel while ignoring the dust and pet hair my office throws at it. It's since had a bump to a 2TB SSD and 8GB RAM. It's on 10.11 El Capitan because the macOS quality went down hill too far after that and it isn't supported beyond 10.13 High Sierra anyway. All it needs to run is Firefox, iTunes and Office 2003 when I'm away from home and it does this admirably.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
        Linux

        Don't forget that you can still run a modern supported Linux on it, like MintPPC: http://mintppc.nl/

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Macs from this era are Intel, not PPC.

        2. paulf Silver badge

          This is straying off topic from the article but hey ho. I tried Mint on the desktop as a Win 7 replacement. I've heard lots of good things about it but there were a few too many aspects that just didn't work (no hibernation, no soundcard audio pass through, switching Firefox to the ESR channel was a right faff, no iTunes support even with Wine/Crossover). Also it took several attempts to get it installed right as one false move during installation (e.g. picking the nVidia video drivers rather than the open source ones) borks the install completely. Then fixing things tends to require C+P of commands into a terminal window which makes it risky on the parental computer for remote support purposes. I really wanted Mint to be a viable escape route from Windows, and I know it is loved by others, but it just had too many downsides for me.

          As for my Mac - I'll stick to El Capitan, thanks.

    2. ThomH

      Something I found interesting that's only slightly connected: looking at just the laptops, the range of GeekBench scores amongst machines that Apple actively supports and which will receive macOS 11 later this year is something like 566/1139 – 1112/6958 (single/multi).

      So the current i9 MacBook Pro is about six times as fast for multi-core workloads as the 2015 Retina MacBook.

      Although they might have all felt basically the same for standard desktop tasks for a very long time, there's still quite a performance curve out there.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Sure, my new laptop is about 15 times faster than my old one. But when an Excel recalculation takes 1ms instead of 15ms, it's not really noticeable. If I'm running loads of virtual machines on VMWare Fusion, then I notice the difference.

        1. idiotzoo

          Yep... I do a lot of photo and video editing. This is where you notice the difference. Otherwise the laptop I literally acquired out of a skip continues to serve all my needs.

    3. Alexander Lovell
      Unhappy

      We had a similar decade old mid 2010 13" MacBook Pro. Apart from a lowish screen resolution it was still a perfectly good machine for web browsing and kids' schoolwork especially after I installed an SSD and doubled the RAM to 8gb. Although it successfully held off the passage of time, it was unable to cope with my daughter spilling a full glass of water over the keyboard and frying the internals.

  10. Greybearded old scrote
    Happy

    Fond memory

    I worked at a publisher, and I remember that particular iThing fondly. The toilet seat predecessor even more so.

    The comments about its speed confirms what I've long thought. The OS and application developers are persistently throwing away all the benefits of Moore's Law. (Don't even get me started on doing everything in the browser.) /VERY BIG SIGH.

    1. RM Myers Bronze badge
      Happy

      Re: Fond memory

      I had a computer science professor in the 1970's whose favorite saying was "no matter how fast the hardware gets, poorly written software can bring a computer to its knees". It was true then, and still is today.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Fond memory

        I can create documents and spreadsheets and databases to run a business using Wordstar and Lotus and dBase on DOS 3.3 easier (and quite a bit faster!) than on more modern Office 355.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Fond memory

          Yep. I got lots of downvotes a bit back by commenting that if one happens to run a debugger one can see first hand the huge amount of CPU instructions cycles that are not doing anything apparently useful at all. This is particularly noticeable when .net and ActiveX (COM) components are involved, any form of variants also bring a CPU to a rapid stop too. Not helped by using a CPU architecture which almost requires that most of the CPU cycles used are juggling a few limited registers around.

  11. Greybearded old scrote

    Another me too

    My family is touched with all that. When I was looking into my nephew's diagnosis of dispraxia one line jumped off the screen at me. "They often won't dance, because it feels so awkward." Oh, that's what it is!

    In hindsight, perhaps motorcycling was a less than optimal choice of hobby. After many years of near misses it turned into the only time I ever felt graceful though.

    Jasper FForde wrote that dyslexia should be renamed 'O.'

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Another me too

      When I was looking into my nephew's diagnosis of dispraxia one line jumped off the screen at me. "They often won't dance, because it feels so awkward." Oh, that's what it is!

      I've always thought that was just being English(*).

      (*) Speaking from personal experience.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had* verbal dyspraxia as a kid and my handwriting was just as shit. In primary school I once had detention due to my crap handwriting until my parents explained why, and throughout primary and high school there were often notes on my work saying my writing is illegible.

    The problem with verbal dyspraxia is hardly anyone could understand you, especially when you couldn't even pronounce your own name and relied on others to correct whoever was asking what your name was. I had to go to a speech therapist for support during Primary school, who would also help in other things.

    Like you, I recall it being difficult to tie my shoe laces as a kid, though I can't recall velcro straps or anything else being an issue---but maybe I just can't remember.

    Although I've mostly grew out of the problems, sometimes words don't come out properly and my old nemesis ("shh" instead of "sss") comes out a few times.

    But then it's difficult, isn't it. Am I struggling because of X, or because I might have Y and haven't officially been diagnosed yet. Life's a bitch and if only you knew it as a kid, could you have successfully handled that shit better.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Yep, lack of support is really hard.

      For many years as a kid I was only able make vowel sounds. Which is weird but also demonstrates that there is a reason why vowels and consonants are separated. What's particularly weird is that apparently most other people had it the other way, only being able to make consonant sounds. I could read as well as a child many years older, but I couldn't say the words. My teacher only progressed me from the first reading books because I was getting more and more frustrated, i.e. bored with them. One day, suddenly I found myself able to speak (I don't remember this specifically) and I rapidly moved up the various levels of books until I was then frustrated because the teachers wouldn't let me go past the "smart" kids in the class reading ranks even though I could read every single book in the set. A year or two later at the age of 9 I was assessed and found to have the reading capability of a 16 year old, and they didn't assess further than that.

  13. mihares
    Pint

    It's just great.

    Wrote most of my PhD thesis on a PowerBook G4 --yes, I'm decadent and invested the grand total of £ 150 on it. It's just great.

    My handwriting is straight on the page, but everybody tells me it's illegible.

    The fact that I'm writing here informs you on how feeble my concentration usually is.

    Useless at football (and hating the sport anyway).

    Have one of these --->

  14. BenDwire Silver badge
    Pint

    We are not alone

    There seems to be a reasonable percentage of commentards who have been touched by this 'condition'. My nephew was diagnosed with Dyspraxia and Dyslexia 25 years ago, and he's a very clever little nerd!! Has all the communication abilities of a goth, and lives in the same timezone as most vampires. Unfortunately he takes after me in many ways, as do my sons - none of us can spell, write, read music or dance. Most of us can press F7, fix stuff, play music and drink heavily - no all of us drink heavily! So are we the oddballs? Or are we the normal ones?

    Anyway, to fix the WiFi on old kit, get an original 802.11b access point and set it up with the best security you can manage. You can turn it off when not in use to protect the rest of the network (or shove it on a VLAN through a managed switch). Just my 2p.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: We are not alone

      For (probably) better security than the stock unit, look into replacing the firmware with something like OpenWRT. Most Linux/GNU/FOSS usergroups will be happy to help you with this if you are unsure of your technical ability. Ask at your local Uni to find such a group in your area.

  15. Blackjack Silver badge

    Minimalism is possible on modern machines

    But one usually doesn't want to.

    For example I have an old laptop with Linux I use for three things, games, recording and editing audio and downloading large files from the Internet.

    But when that laptop wasn't old I used it for everything.

    As a result using that machine is relaxing because there isn't much to do with it.

  16. jake Silver badge

    Options are good.

    When I want to sit down and write without distractions, I use a dumb terminal.

    The computer I'm typing this on right now is a nearly 17 year old HP Pavillion laptop running Slackware-stable. Alongside its stock screen, it has a much larger display (usually in portrait), and an IBM 3151 + Model M keyboard plugged into a serial port. I simply login to the 3151 as "writer", and instead of a friendly shell prompt I'm greeted with an empty vi document. All I need to do is start typing. It's the fastest way I know to get my thoughts into a computer ... and with zero distractions. If needs be, I can save the text & re-open it later in a word processor to make it look pretty.

    I have the GUI right next to the dumb terminal ... but there is nothing stopping me running a wire to the next available space to remove the distraction. Or even into the next room, for that matter (and I do, sometimes). Obviously email, Usenet, FTP, etc. are still available on a dumb terminal, and I can shell out of vi and run links or lynx for text-only WWW browsing, so a little self-discipline is needed to ignore the distractions ... but honestly, once I start typing I don't think about the outside world.

    I'm not suggesting this solution is right for everybody, but try it, you might like it. vi is not for everybody, either ... so use your text editor of choice as your shell instead ... or simply login to a more standard shell and then fire up your editor of choice.

  17. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    You may find that a feather quill, ink and paper works for you even better than an obsolete computer ...

    1. redpawn Silver badge

      Probably not as a 90 degree bend in written lines is not considered good form. I frequently use a 1928 Remington portable 2 typewriter with the colour mountain ash scarlet for letters or postcards. The scanner seems to understand it even, and Libre Office can fix the spelling.

      1. jake Silver badge

        I absolutely adore my late '50s Smith Corona portable, with Engineering enhancements ... and it even works when there is no electricity. :-)

        (If you are old enough, and from the area, I was the guy at Palo Alto's Foothill Park, sometimes up on Vista Hill, but usually down in Oak Grove, typing away on the aforementioned Smith Corona.)

    2. jake Silver badge
      Coat

      Don't be silly.

      In the first place, have you tried to find a decent, pen-grade quill these days? In the second place, carrying the necessary pen knife will likely get you branded as a terrorist. No, no, I'm sorry, a feather quill is right out ... instead, get a simple, cheap and cheerful fountain pen for your quick scribbles.

      Mines the one with the Quink stains around the inside pocket ...

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        IT Angle

        Re: Don't be silly.

        > instead, get a simple, cheap and cheerful fountain pen for your quick scribbles.

        I recommend the Monami Olika range. Inexpensive rather than cheap and the ink feeds through a felt filter rather than direct to the nib so leak proof.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Don't be silly.

          I use my Grandfather's black 1928 Parker Duofold when I need/want that kind of thing. It's not the flashiest/best pen ever made, but it makes me feel good using a tool that still does exactly what it was designed to do, after almost a century.

          ObITrelated: I jot down notes on paper when troubleshooting computers/networks. Don't you?

      2. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Don't be silly.

        Fountain Pen?

        My Primary school mandated fountain pens when time came to learn joined-up writing.

        I came in first day with a Parker rollerball, but that wasn't good enough apparently.

        Thick, slow drying ink is a bugger for left handers - not much legible after the hand following the nib smears the ink.

        I did the best I could, learnt to write with my hand at a weird angle.

    3. Peter2 Silver badge

      Firstly, old tech works just as well (or in some cases better) than modern tech. Just because something gets superseded doesn't necessarily mean that the newer product is actually better for getting a job done.

      Also, I was diagnosed with being dyslexic back when that was in fashion. Knowing people who are dyslexic, I think i'm something else, but I certainly have had serious problems with handwriting.

      And in perfect seriousness do try writing with an old fashioned dip pen. I started because I got into reenactment and wanted a bit of practice outside of using them at events. I ended up coming to the conclusion that Biros are evil things that encourage if not require poor handwriting. They allow people to hold the pen improperly. Holding the pen improperly largely causes bad handwriting. Did anybody tell you that at school? No? Me neither.

      With a dip pen, if your holding the pen at the wrong angle it simply doesn't work. That forces you to hold the pen at the right angle, and that means an instant and significant improvement in the quality of your handwriting. As you get used to it, it gets steadily better, especially if you do a few sheets worth of copperplate calligraphy instruction pages then you'll discover that your handwriting suddenly goes from being abysmal to being somewhat better than most peoples.

      Hence my desk at work now has several inkwells (you can get beautiful antiques for a pittance because your one of the the only people in the country interested in them) and a collection of dip pens with different nibs. (each gives a different effect when writing) If you have trouble remembering to take your hand off of the paper and move it, just put less ink on the pen. It'll run out and force you to move your hand to dip the pen in the ink again. You'll get used to moving your hand after a while, and fully dipped a fine tip can easily last a page of A4. IMO dip pens have a undeservedly bad reputation.

      Lastly, if you do decide to go down this route, get yourself a mini hot glue gun and a wax seal from ebay. Wax sticks fit a hot glue gun, so if you are required to fill in forms then you can fill them in with a quill, fold the form and wax seal it shut and then snailmail it just to make a point to people that they are being overly archaic in not allowing you to email it, and that you can play too.

      If you can act, you can also then quietly mock green types (who still use biros) when they ask why your using a quill by pointing out that the feather (or wood) holder is bio degradable, the nib is replaceable, the inkwells have an age greater than the combined total age of everybody in sight and unlike them you aren't using a single bit of single use plastic. (and did they realise that a biro has four bits of single use plastic that go in the bin when replaced? The outer case of the pen, the ink in the tube is in a plastic tube, the cover and the bit on the end of the pen; all of which go in the bin every time you get a new biro)

      You can get near endless entertainment out of being slightly archaic.

      1. jake Silver badge

        "You can get near endless entertainment out of being slightly archaic."

        You should see the shit I get for DARING to fire up my 1915 Case traction engine to plow our largish bit of bottom land. People often pull over (It's almost always Prius drivers. No idea why.) and yell at me over the fence ... It's BIG, it's LOUD and just look at all that smoke/pollution!

        Until I point out that it's not smoke, it's steam, the fire burns hot enough to be practically smokeless, under power she's actually quieter than my largish Kubota diesel at 50 yards/meters, and she's big and powerful enough that I can pull a 12 bottom with her at about three times the speed that I can pull a 4 bottom with the Kubota, meaning I'm done in hours instead of days. To say nothing of the fact that the fuel (mostly scrap wood and old fence posts[0]) would be going on a burn pile anyway. And besides all that, she's over 100 years old and still going strong. Do you expect me to scrap her and buy a modern tractor in the near 7 figure range which will probably be in a landfill within 20 years like that car?

        They almost always drive off in a huff. A couple have called the police on me. One filed a written complaint with the EPA ... Needless to say, these busybodies have had zero affect on the way I do things around here.

        [0] She makes more horsepower on coal, but have you seen the price of anthracite recently? And no, I'm not going to burn low-grade coal. I'm the guy who has to work on the ol' gal. Likewise, I don't burn pressure treated wood.

  18. DS999

    More proof that

    Software bloats to expand the available processing power. I remember writing papers on a Mac Plus back in the day, and it was every bit as fast as Word or LibreOffice on my quad core 3.2 GHz desktop is today.

  19. joma0711

    Excellent article - thank you :)

  20. tcmonkey

    David Murray would be proud!

  21. John Sturdy
    Coat

    I remember the days...

    I sometimes hanker for the times when networking was UUCP, and email arrived twice a day (or four times a day if you were on a busy well-connected site).

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: I remember the days...

      I still use UUCP to route stuff internally, including in my (smallish) news farm. Makes a lot of sense, for a lot of reasons.

      My eldest Niece reports that comp-sci students at her Uni implemented a "students only" UUCP network over the existing school network a couple years ago. It's mostly used for email, small file transfer, and a private Usenet hierarchy. Seems the thirty-somethings who are supposedly the administrators never learned UUCP and have no idea that what they are doing even exists. No, I'm not naming the Uni ... but apparently they are connected to other schools, world-wide, and the PTB are none the wiser. To get around draconian filters, they even have a couple links that are dial-up, over POTS, if you can believe it. Good for them! :-)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dyspraxia - thank you

    I'm originally from Liverpool, don't like football and have Dyspraxia and I loved your explanation of it.

    I had speech therapy for years and couldn't catch things 80% of the time until I was in my early teens (today I can catch things about 70-80% of the time, although some things are harder than others).

    For me, I was lucky as I had people around me who realised there were things I could do to help train myself - learning to cycle massively changed me, touch typing massively changed me, and one or two other things. None of this was simple - both cycling and touch typing involved lots of repetition to learn (and yes, lots of falling off the bike). While I still recognise things that are hard, I've learnt a lot of 'work arounds'.

    I've spent my life answering the question 'do you mean dyslexia?'

    So I just wanted to say thank you.

    Oh, and the main article is good as well.

    Anon because I'm also security conscious about giving away personal details.

  23. idiotzoo

    Ancient OS on SSD for the speed!

    Had cause to build XP on an aging Dell laptop, probably a similar vintage to this iBook. Got hold of an ata SSD for it and it was glorious. No service packs, no unnecessary guff, no security of course. This thing was fully air gapped but it was an absolute joy to use. Booted to functional desktop faster than anything else I’ve owned. This approach is an anathema to our modern hyper-connected world, but my word it’s fast.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old MacBook

    I was gifted an old MacBook (A1181 I think)

    Upgraded RAM from 4Gb to 6Gb, installed an SSD, installed Catalina (there are ways)

    Runs just fine. Had the giftee try it out and he was pleasantly surprised with it too.

  25. Not Entered

    Old MacBook

    I was gifted an old MacBook (Late A1181 I think)

    Upgraded RAM to 6Gb, put in an SSD, installed Catalina (yes, it's possible)

    Works just fine. I let the person who gifted it me try it out and he agreed, perfectly usable.

  26. wallyhall

    I feel your pain

    Dyslexia here, with a healthy dose of dyscalculia.

    I wrote about it a while back - publicly - and found a lot of people I’d known for a long time suddenly asking me informative questions and even “admitting similar conditions” themselves.

    Amazing how in 2020 this is still such a taboo.

    Thanks for being open about it.

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/secret-life-dyslexic-matthew-hall

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Form over content......

    As far as WRITING is concerned, I'd say that WORDSTAR (circa 1982) is just as good as anything modern.

    *

    Osborne 01: Z80, 4MHz, 64K RAM, 192K floppy (1982)

    *

    Linux laptop: x86_64, 1.5GHz, 4GB RAM, 150GB SSD (2020)

    *

    THE WRITING PROCESS IS JUST THE SAME. What am I missing?

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