1. 45
  1.  

  2. 20

    I absolutely just want a tiny, silent, cool ePaper laptop capable of running Linux/BSD in a purely text mose.

    1. 9

      I would also love a Linux compatible e-ink laptop. I look for one from time to time, but there has never been one that has been worth the price for me. There are some things on the market that come close, but they normally have a few things that I don’t like and come with a price tag too high for me to want to compromise.

      1. 7

        Exactly what I’m dreaming of. I even asked MNT founder about it: https://mamot.fr/web/@ploum/109082688438688769

        I’ve written about my quest here : https://ploum.net/the-computer-built-to-last-50-years/

        I thought that Astrohaus was nailing it.

        Unfortunately, I’m really angry against Astrohaus for the Freewrite. Their software are a shame, force using a proprietary cloud and are full of bugs. My Freewrite, despite its weight, have no more battery than my laptop. The traveler has a very very bad keyboard to the point of making it unusable for me (I had to send it back because some keys were always quadrupled. Now, the space is only working if I press it really violently). See gemini://rawtext.club/~ploum/2021-10-07.gmi

        Placing all my hope on the MNT Pocket even if I would need to adapt my layout to the keyboard. Hoping to see an eink version soon to use with only a terminal. Neovim, Neomutt and Offpunk are all I need 95% of the time ;-)

          1. 4

            I’ve written about my quest here : https://ploum.net/the-computer-built-to-last-50-years/

            This is very interesting, thank you for sharing. One point I’m unsure about is storage… I’m not aware of any existing storage technologies that would last more than a dozen years. Mechanical drives fail because they’re just fragile, especially in a computer than can be easily moved around. SSDs/flash are less fragile but blocks still “go bad”, though wear leveling helps a little I guess. Maybe some purpose-built SSD with a huge number of spare blocks would last 50 years?

            1. 4

              SSDs also require power, at least sporadically, for them to retain data. I’ve seen a recommendation to power up and read all the data on a SSD once yearly to make sure there’s no data loss.

            2. 2

              addendum: I think your blogpost would be worth its own submission

              1. 1

                Thanks. It has already been submitted : https://lobste.rs/s/1b1rxk/computer_built_last_50_years

                1. 1

                  my bad, missed that when looking for it.

              2. 2

                It has come up in discussions around the reform in the past (I think on the reform forums), and @mntmn said that it’d be an interesting option, but at least at the time there wasn’t really anything good enough available that could be easily used.

                Would not surprise me to see someone do it as a modding project though, if they can find a usable panel in a close-enough size.

              3. 3

                I haven’t tried it, but the Remarkable2 is apparently running linux; https://www.mashupsthatmatter.com/blog/USB-keyboard-reMarkable2 walks through adapting it to take a USB keyboard, but looks like it’s still a bit of work.

                1. 1

                  I’ve seen that it was possible to install Parabola Linux on the rM1. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s indeed a very interesting possibiity.

                  1. 1

                    I have an rM2, and it has some Linux distro installed by default. I haven’t messed around with installing a totally separate OS, but I have used https://toltec-dev.org to install some homebrew apps as well as general Linux utilities

              4. 9

                I read this comment from my Kobo Clara HD e-reader which is running full NixOS (with Rakuten’s vendor kernel) - it’s not a laptop but it is kinda a tablet and does support OTG.

                I’m hoping the Kobo Clara HD 2e is similarly hackable because it has Bluetooth. I’d love to be able to use a wireless keyboard and have audio, in the future.

                1. 1

                  Since writing this, I had a quick look at the Kobo Clara 2e and it looks close enough that I’m going to gamble that my existing NixOS installation might boot. Purchased for $209AUD. Let’s see.

                  1. 1

                    Huh, nice. I have a Kobo Clara HD, but the only hacking I’ve done to it is to install KOReader. It would be pretty nice to be able to write with it, and to have a Gemini client on it.

                    1. 3

                      I tried Gemini yesterday! nix-shell -p castor:

                      https://i.imgur.com/TXGCfmq.jpeg

                      1. 1

                        Looks good!

                  2. 18

                    Author here. I was not expecting this post to ever leave my blog. It is not really rich in content, it is mostly me being vague about my own feelings about small devices. Well, if anyone here has questions or comments, I’ll be checking here often. Thanks a lot for checking out my writing.

                    1. 5

                      The content often doesn’t matter that much here, as long as it invites discussion. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

                      1. 4

                        I mostly come here for the comments. The articles are often interesting but I’m far more likely to learn something that I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere or read a perspective that I hadn’t considered in the comments than the articles.

                        1. 1

                          As an author, it can hurt your feelings when you go to a discussion and it’s at best tangential to your post, but as a reader, I can’t change. The discussion is its own thing and the posts are just things to consider discussing. It’s like how a book club may go off on the noisy dog down the street and its rude owner instead of the actual book for the club. It happens and that’s just how it is.

                        2. 4

                          The feelings discussed openly is what I loved best about your post. The demand from some readers who ask us to justify what problems a small computer solves that cannot be solved with a larger computer totally miss the point. Computing is not only about utillity. It is also about feelings, emotions, nostalgia and love. It is okay to have fun with computers and small computers are good fun.

                          1. 1

                            Thanks a ton :-)

                        3. 8

                          When I was 12 or 13, I got a Psion Series 3. I got it second hand after the original owner upgraded to a shiny new 3A. It had a programming language, a spreadsheet (which I still use in a Psion emulator in DOSBox occasionally, since it has the best keyboard navigation of anything I’ve used since), a non-WYSIWYG word processor and a whole bunch of other things, including a programming language. I wrote a lot of (terrible) code on that machine and also, after I got a serial adaptor to connect it to a computer, wrote a load of essays for school on it (being able to type a 3000-word essay in class, rather than handwrite it, was a game changer for me - my handwriting has always been terrible and no amount of practice or exercises ever improved it). I could type things on it and then import them into Word or ClarisWorks at home to spell check and add proper formatting before printing them.

                          I’d love to have a machine like the Psion again. It ran a multitasking OS with a GUI in 256 KiB of SRAM (hmm, I’m working on a chip with about that much…) and was one of the most usable machines I’ve ever owned. Oh, and a chunk of that 256 KiB was used for a RAM disk, the only persistent storage that the device had. Building something similar out of modern components would be fantastic. I’d like to have on-device spell checking and maybe an ssh client, but aside from that it was great. It ran for a couple of weeks on a pair of AA batteries - a modern LiIon battery with a similar front-lit LCD screen would be great.

                          The next small computer that I used a lot was a Nokia 770. Nokia had a thing to give something like a 66% discount to open source developers to help grow the platform. This thing ran Linux and X11. I gave up on it fairly quickly as a developer platform because Nokia decided to switch from GTK to Qt for the next generation and so made it a dead end (I later got a free HP TouchPad on a similar scheme, days before HP killed WebOS). With 64 MiB, it struggled. I ended up using it with an xterm and vim - anything else would trigger the OOM killer. I still wrote a lot of it (a few book chapters and dozens of articles) with a ThinkOutside folding keyboard (fantastic hardware - I still have it, in theory, though my partner ‘borrowed’ it during the pandemic and I’m not sure when I’ll get it back). It was pretty eye opening how wasteful modern software is. The developer experience on the Psion was much better than on the 770 and it did far more with a 3.84MHz CPU and 256 KiB of RAM than Linux with a 252MHz CPU and 64 MiB of RAM.

                          I now have a phone and an iPad, but I don’t really find either of them exciting. My phone is basically used for Signal and work apps. My tablet for reading the news and web browsing (and playing videos when I’m travelling).

                          I’d like to have a small device that was both useful and fun. If I had a load of spare time, I’d love to write something EPOC16-inspired on our CHERI microcontroller and couple it with a small keyboard and a greyscale reflective LCD.

                          1. 2

                            This message made my day. I’d love to have something like EPOC in a Psion form-factor going around. Planet computers have cool devices, but I don’t find Android or Linux to be what I want to run on such small devices.

                            I played a lot with a 5mx from a friend. He was in the Psion camp and I was in the Newton camp, I think each device had their own core strenghs. The psion was way more portable and its keyboard was sooooo good, I wish people were still shipping them.

                            I never got a Nokia Internet Tablet, I’ve seen them cheap on eBay, I wonder if they’re fun.

                            What you’re doing with the CHERI mcu? Do you have a blog I can follow?

                            1. 3

                              What you’re doing with the CHERI mcu? Do you have a blog I can follow?

                              We posted a blog article a couple of weeks back with our plans, but we don’t have a project blog. We hope to get the tech report with the ISA spec out Real Soon Now and then start open sourcing the toolchain and RTOS. Upstreaming the modified Ibex core should start around December. We have also implemented a prototype of the same ISA on Flute, which runs at around 20 KHz in simulation: too slow for things like TLS, but fast enough to be fun to play with. Ibex should run at 20 MHz in a fairly cheap FPGA (there’s one on my desk that we’re using for demos), which should be ample to drive a display and prototype something EPOC-like.

                          2. 4

                            I love tiny computers, but I also love full size keyboards that I don’t have to re-learn how to type on. :-(

                            1. 2

                              yep. Small screens. Good (foldable ?) keyboards.

                              Yet, the last ten years had been a race towards bigger screens and less keyboard (either no keyboard at all or a shitty one, like Apple macbook)

                            2. 3

                              It’s nice that the ecology supports so many niches, and weird when it allows one to die. (I’m thinking about netbooks, which split into usable tablets and Chromebooks which have gradually become identical to laptops…)

                              I especially enjoy having the market provide me with relatively cheap devices that do something I want particularly well. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD10 is a somewhat fragile gratuitously incompatible Android tablet – but it has a perfectly reasonable 1920x1200 screen, a headphone jack, and enough oomph to play 1080P video over the wireless network, and only cost $120 or so on sale because Amazon assumes you will be paying them back in media rental fees. That makes it a great device to suspend over my bed to read books, comics, control the audio system and watch video. It never goes anywhere so the relative fragility and low battery life don’t matter.

                              Every so often I think about other devices I might want, and for the most part I lack a clear vision of why I would want to replace what I have now. But some people love smart watches and some folks want voice-command lights, and that’s their choice.

                              1. 1

                                I’m curious what

                                suspend over my bed

                                means.

                                1. 6

                                  For about $20-40, you can get a bendable arm with a clamp on one end to attach to a headboard, and spring-loaded arms on the other that will hold a tablet. For about $30-50, you can get the same sort of thing but on a tall stand so that it goes whereever you want it, strong enough to hold an ultrabook.

                                  When I was quite young, I dreamed of having a device to hold a book over my head and automatically turn the pages, so I didn’t have to move the blankets. Thanks to a headboard clip mount and a cheap bluetooth remote control, that dream is realized. It’s just as wonderful as I had imagined.

                                  1. 2

                                    I’m guessing like a monitor arm but to hold the tablet in front of them?

                                2. 3

                                  I had a Psion5 for a few years (until the inevitable flex-cable failure) and it was fantastic. You could actually touch-type on the keyboard, and whatever OS it had worked well and stayed out of your way.

                                  1. 1

                                    My dad has purchased multiple used Psion 5s.

                                    We tried to find an equivalent of its built-in database application for another mobile platform but so far haven’t been able to find one.

                                    1. 3

                                      The data app from these ex-psion guys should come close: https://www.www3.planetcom.co.uk/software

                                      1. 1

                                        This sounds awesome! Thanks for the tip.

                                      2. 3

                                        I’m not sure how much the database evolved from the 3 to the 5, but I’m curious what you’re looking for here? On the 3, the database was a fixed-record key-value store. Its main advantage was that it was integrated with OPL, so that you could open any database from a BASIC-like programming language (I guess Python would be the thing today?) and operate on the data. I wrote a program for learning French and German vocab that let me enter the words into the database app and then have it repeatedly test me (randomly selecting ones, with bias towards ones that I’d got wrong before) until I had learned enough to do well in the tests in school. Apparently a lot of customers used it for inventory things.

                                        1. 1

                                          It’s been some years, my dad really likes to think in categories. He has a bunch of stuff organized around Tangibles, House, stuff like that. My impression was that the datastore matched this model quite well.

                                          1. 2

                                            Interesting, thanks.

                                            It’s worth noting that the Psion Series 3A emulator works well in DOSBox. It has a .ini file to control the resolution and all of the apps that I’ve tried work well at 640x480. Not sure how well it would work on a mobile device with an on-screen keyboard, but it’s probably great on a clamshell.

                                            I’ve not tried any of the Series 5 emulators (the 5’s poor battery life put me off replacing my 3 with one when it eventually broke).

                                    2. 3

                                      I loved my OLPC XO-1, hacking Python or sshing in, with no backlight. The keyboard was a bit too small to be comfortable for long, but I did spend some time using it in fast food restaurants and cafes. I also used it for reading PDFs before I had any eInk devices.

                                      1. 2

                                        I haven’t written about it on the article, but I too had an OLPC XO-1 and absolutely loved the form factor and screen. It is criminal that we don’t have those screens anymore. They were amazing. The keyboard is the only thing that prevented me using the machine more often. It was good for occasional use, but typing a lot of text in it was strange (not bad, but strange IMO)

                                      2. 1

                                        I owned and used an OpenPandora for about a year. It was underspecced by the time it shipped, but it was a fun little device! There definitely is an appeal.

                                        1. 1

                                          I am actually in the midst of taking an HP Mini 2040 and replacing its guts with a Raspberry Pi. I am currently writing a small driver board for the Keyboard and Mouse using a Teensy to comvert them to just usb mouse/keyboard. I will then hook up some of the external ports to matching ones on the Pi.

                                          Later on, i might convert it to a custom CM4 board and make it upgradeable and custom for the device. I am currently worried the LCD to HDMI panel converter board from ebay will be too big to fit everything inside and needs its own power source. I am tempted to see if I can make my own, or something.

                                          FInally the battery. hooking that up to an RPi and see if I can manage the battery charging and such (might need its own mini board to handle all that.

                                          Its a long term project, but if I succeed, I plan to try and do something similar but for a Sony Vaio P series. Much more limited space, but curious if I can pull it off with a RPi Zero 2 W or a custom CM4 setup. Again the Display conversion is probably the hardest part.