Welcome back to the Vault
Which actually makes no sense, it’s not even a vault.
It’s my basement.
My name is Matt Mutch.
I am a computer enthusiast.
I’d like to tell you a story
I’ve been a writer since just before I could write. In some intense chicken or egg first kind of scenario, I was the only child to inhabit the writing area of my kindergarden classroom – an otherwise disused corner with a single table, two chairs, paper, and no pencils. It was dim. And next to the toilet. While other kids played games, or sports, or played house, or any number of other activities, I sought out oversized children’s pencils and committed the precious few words I could spell to the page. Since then I go at it in fits and spurts and there will be years where pen barely touches paper, but I’ve always come back around to it time and time again.
I do have difficulty at times finding the right physical outlet or implement to write. There are arguments to be made regarding this topic all over the place from every direction. In theory, all one should need is a mote of inspiration to write, at least when writing creatively, but I think we can come to an agreement that there’s slightly more to it than that.
Some write better with an analog medium such as pen and paper. Some write better on a keyboard at a computer. I’m sure some do their best on a typewriter. And others still might, say, dictate (which I personally think is bonkers but to each their own).
In the unlikely event I actually have a thought, I do my best work with a keyboard at a computer. I was one of the few to not cheat and load other people’s saved exercises in typing class back in sixth grade, so I actually became a competent touch typist and it’s served me very well since. My typing speed can nearly match the speed of the disgusting spewing stream of consciousness that belches forth from my mind time to time and getting it all down seems to be the most likely way to have enough usable material salvaged from the mess. Following the download, having text in an editor means ideas can be copied, moved, added to, or eliminated efficiently. For me, it’s best.
If you give them a chance, there’s a vocal group that will extol the virtues of distraction-free environments for work and especially for writing. There are hundreds of apps out there for any given platform which promise effective, distraction-free environments with all of the features you need to write and none that you don’t, and they’re fine, but being (relatively) poor and fairly cheap to boot, I’ve found solutions in Google Docs for notes and shorter works and the Github Atom text editor for longer projects. I’ve dabbled in everything from Microsoft Word to Text Edit to ClarisWorks to Scrivener and Ulysses but simple and free fits me best – which is actually somewhat unfortunate because I own a lot of that other crap now.
Continuing the distraction-free theme, I have a dedicated computer for writing, separate from entertainment, photo editing, internet browsing, file serving, and everything else I do with my myriad machines. It is versatile in that it’s a laptop that’s connected to a docking station to anchor it into a more comfortable environment when I’m home. The laptop is a venerable Lenovo Thinkpad x230, which you may have heard me write about here before and if so, bless you. The x230, sufficed to say, is a powerful third-generation i7-based laptop (massive overkill) with one of the best laptop keyboards ever produced (a critical factor in comfortable writing). It’s 720p TN-based display is a little lacking, but since I spend most of my time with it in a grey and black text-only environment, it’s all right!
The x230 sits in a dock underneath a riser which holds a 24 inch Dell display supporting full HD resolution. I formerly used it to edit photos on and it’s a fairly nice display but has oversaturated colors which I can’t wring out of it, so it became of little value for accurate color work. It remains as a perfect companion to the x230 and I can fit plenty of text on screen to keep track of where I am in long projects and can even pivot it into portrait mode which is HIGHLY underrated for any text based work from browsing to coding to writing. Incredibly underrated.
The occasional musical accompaniment or YouTube break gets quite drowned out by the laptop sitting closed in a dock so a simple stereo speaker bar sits under the Dell’s chin providing adequate audio quality and surprising volume. The biggest perk of this configuration is that there are no pesky wires snaking all over to connect a set of speakers.
Peripherals include a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard sporting Cherry MX Blue switches. A tenkeyless keyboard lacks a number pad and dedicated arrow keys. While a matter of personal preference for the most part, to me the main advantage is simply that I can center the keyboard on the keyboard tray without being stuck shifted off of center to line up directly in front of it. I think that’s called ergonomics. As for the specific switches, Cherry MX is pretty much the biggest name in mechanical, tactile keyboard switches and the Blue version is just right for absolutely knowing exactly when a key actuates and facilitates typing faster with fewer mistakes. My work keyboard probably annoys my co-workers but I’m working better so I say it’s worth it, and then at home I live alone and the cats haven’t mentioned the noise being a problem.
The mouse doesn’t particularly matter. It’s a bargain bin Logitech wireless something or other and has annoying fused left and right click buttons and it’s kind of awful but I don’t require anything any better for this computer.
As someone for whom clutter gets to be an issue when it comes to workstation setups, this configuration is delightfully clean. The aging x230 gets a little bit noisy for no discernible reason – I’m literally just editing text which as far as workflows go, is just about the lightest duty job – but the desk can remain clean and generally free of distraction. You could easily go so far as to call it dull or boring-looking and frankly, in this case, that’s fine. Desirable even.
The primary problem with this setup is simply that… I don’t use it! I was on a tear back in August of 2018 but that’s the last time I was really in head first into a writing project. The few things I’ve worked on like snippets of my Paperboy novelization or Into the Vault articles I honestly just crank out on my work computer on breaks from my responsibilities at the office. They go into Google Docs and COULD easily be retrieved back on my writing computer but… there’s usually no call for additional work on them other than attaching photos which I do from my photo PC or in the case of Paperboy, I just write when I have a thought, which could be anywhere, either at work or even just noting a few lines on my iPhone.
It’s a giant waste of valuable resources, and it primarily sits as a monument to cable management. At least it itself has now come around not as an implement, but as an inspiration for a written piece itself.
This article was written on a break at work, on my work PC. Oh, the irony.
As a note of passing interest, during Christmas I really wanted to replace this entire set up with a tantalizing $100 dollar Asus laptop, which is a whole story itself at least as far as I’m concerned. But simply the idea of having a functional, current laptop of any performance tier at the $100 dollar price point was a novelty almost worth splurging on. And in regards to being a writing tool, it is significantly lighter weight and physically smaller than the x230 while promising more than adequate performance for text editing. Alas, even the bargain basement price tag of $100 was more than I could drop on an unnecessary novelty purchase at the time.
Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it?
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been
Into the Vault – Writer’s Room
The Writers Room setup sits in the corner of my bedroom typically tragically dormant. It is a Lenovo x230 laptop sporting a third generation Intel Ivy Bridge CPU – an i7-3520m featuring two cores and four total processing threads. It is maxed out on 16 GB of DDR3-1600 RAM and has a 250 GB mSATA SSD with an available 2.5 inch drive bay should more storage ever be required. The 12 inch, 1366×768 display is closed up most of the time. It also features two USB 3.0A ports, a miniDisplayPort, a VGA port, and an SD slot. Networking available through 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth, or Gigabit ethernet, but many duties fall to the official Docking Station, which features a DisplayPort, a VGA port, and 1/8th inch in and out jacks. Also on board is a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive (remember those things, kids?) and Gigabit ethernet with four USB 2.0 ports for peripherals like the mechanical keyboard and the wireless mouse receiver. The Dell display is a 24 inch model with full 1920×1080 resolution (or 1080×1920 resolution if I’m feeling cheeky), and the Soundbar is USB attached through a hub integrated into the display.