Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Technology and Creative Friction

I've spent a fair amount of time this week, between plot outlining and character sketching for The Work (which is going outstandingly, thanks very much), refurbishing an old Dell Inspiron B130 laptop of Amy's. It's 2006-vintage with upgraded memory, which means it's a very competent Windows XP box. I'm typing on it now.

It's got a 15" screen and weighs several pounds, which is gargantuan by today's featherlight standards of netbooks, 13-inch Macbook Airs and "ultrabook" PCs. I do have a netbook which is doing yeoman's work as a primary machine (thanks to its capacious hard drive), but its keyboard, while usable, isn't quite big enough for fast or accurate typing with my big mitts.

I did need to replace the Dell's keyboard, though, which brings me to the subject of the post. Whether through heavy use or simple age, the Dell's original keyboard had become stiff and reluctant to recognize keypresses. Luckily Amazon offered a replacement for $10, which arrived yesterday. Yank the battery, pop a panel, unscrew the old keyboard, install the new, and suddenly the laptop types like a dream. Now that I've stripped off all the gnarly mid-decade software and run through Microsoft's patching gauntlet, it's become a quite respectable and comfortable word processing computer. So comfortable, in fact, that I may well make this computer my primary writing machine.

The Dell's 15" screen and full-size keys are like coming home: I used to use an old (2004-vintage) Mac Powerbook G4 for writing, but I let Apple OS-revise it into senescence: I really should have kept it on OS X Tiger, but wiping it and going back would be too much grief, now. Windows XP, by contrast, is still getting patched, still supports most Windows software (most notably Google Chrome, MS Word 2010 and Scrivener for Windows), and runs like greased lightning on cheap old hardware like this.

It's surprising the difference that a good keyboard and working environment can make for smooth writing. The netbook's screen is just a little too small, its keyboard a smidgen too cramped for comfort, which makes a big enough difference that I'd been using the netbook plugged into an external flatscreen and keyboard just to make it palatable. With the Dell, that's not an issue: despite weighing nearly double what the netbook does, I've been happily typing with the full-sized laptop on my lap-desk all morning, while I would have moved off onto the plugged-in desktop and its less-comfy chair by now with the netbook.

I know: first-world problems, right? Still, I try never to let little stuff serve as an excuse not to write, but getting the little stuff right can really help out by making writing just that much more pleasant and distraction-free.


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