Macless

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been having a problem with my Mac. When I start the machine up and enter my login password, instead of displaying the Apple logo for a while whilst booting up I’ve been getting strings of white-on-black text streaming down the left side of the screen… then a message that the machine needs to restart.

A little poking around has enabled me to find out that this error is called a ‘kernel panic’, though I haven’t got very far in determining what causes it. It seems kernel panics can be brought on by any number of problems, either with a system’s hardware or its software. I’ve kept the report logs from the crashes but they’re more or less indecipherable to me - which is where the experts come in.

Today I had an appointment at my nearest Genius Bar and took my MacBook in to be looked at. (Just FYI: it’s a late 2010 model w/ 4GB of RAM, running OS X Mountain Lion.) The guy who looked at it for me had all the info I’d sent through at hand on an iPad, but that and the logs he pulled up from the console didn’t give a definitive picture of where the problem lay. I was half expecting them to say that it wasn’t a diagnosable problem and tell me to come back if it got worse. But that isn’t the way that Apple do business: there was no question that they needed to get to the bottom of the issue, so I had to sign the computer into their care for a few days.

Leaving the Apple store without my Mac, knowing that I wouldn’t have it to hand for at least a few days (maybe as long as three weeks) felt very odd. I found myself immediately calculating what the implications would be for my daily digital activities. Most things I balance between Mac & iPhone anyway, depending upon which is to hand: email, Twitter, RSS feeds etc. All of my music is still on tap thanks to Spotify and iTunes Match; photos are all backed up to Dropbox and hence still available via iOS or any web browser; I can still post to Tumblr, Instagram et al via iPhone… I’m still plugged in.

Longform reading & writing were likely to be the biggest hurdle. I’ve never got used to reading lots of text on a phone screen; I uninstalled Instapaper through lack of use a while ago, tending instead to save articles to Pinboard to catch up with on a larger screen later. At this moment I’m resigned to building up a bit of a backlog in this way, though I know I also have the option (via Instapaper) to send articles to my Kindle - that might be something worth playing with if the days without a laptop become weeks.

Writing, on the other hand, I quickly found a workable solution to. The iOS version of Information Architects' iA Writer, combined with a bluetooth connection to my wireless Mac keyboard makes for an ideal writing set-up: distraction free, and as comfortable as I choose to make it, it’s also an ultra-portable way of working that I can take from the couch to the train without any hassle. There’s an added bonus: my Documents folder on my MacBook is symlinked to Dropbox, to which iA Writer has full read / write access, so I still have all of my docs to hand and editable. Since I write pretty much everything in markdown format these days plaintext isn’t even really a limitation.

OK, right now I’m going to post this to Wordpress via the beautiful and super-useful iOS app Poster. I’ll keep you updated on life without a laptop. How it limits or changes my online life, whether it makes me think differently about the mobile web, and whether I should be making such a big deal about this in the first place! #firstworldproblems