When your principles fail (sort of), part 2: The Pinebook

This post is a follow up to this one. Not sure it is urgent, but if you feel confused, read that one first.


In the previous post, I lamented my previous choice of laptop because I found it somewhat limiting and limited. It just wasn’t allowing me to do the things that I needed to do. said laptop is getting flimsier and flimsier, and I was getting to the point where I needed a new one.

But here is the issue. As of this writing, I am still in Greece with no real long term prospects of remaining here. I have a remote job that pays (surprisingly) well, but once the quarantine ends and schools physically open, I will lose that too. I could move back to DC and restart that job, but frankly, fuck that. All this is relevant because, while I could purchase a new laptop, I am no longer sure that doing such would be the best idea. But the laptop I had kept on making me increasingly skeptical of how long it was going to keep pushing along. And those online classes I was teaching weren’t going to teach themselves. I was also getting annoyed of having a computer that needed to be kept plugged in all the time to function. It’s occasional random resets didn’t help convince me either.

What to do?

I got the idea to buy a cheap laptop. Maybe a couple hundred bucks. It would be one that could do little more than be a typewrite that connects to the internet. If I found myself with another job that made me make videos, I would find some other god damned solution. But I wanted to spend just a lilttle bit to get me through the coming months.

Could I do so without compromising my principles? For those of you not willing to dig through the past posts to find the ones where I kvetch about this issue, I am a dedicated Linux user who does as much as possible to value computer privacy and independence. I pirate media. I use free and open source software (FOSS). This is what I want to support. On the hardware side of things the conversation gets trickier, but frankly speaking Google, Apple, Samsung, and all their ilk, can suck a lemon. I want to support an underdog when I, in the parlance of the neo-liberal that I guess I am, vote with my dollar. From the way those above companies have behaved over the years, they deserve it.

Enter the humble Pinebook.

Pine64 is a company who seems to be fighting the man. In the ways mentioned above. They make laptops and cellphones that are based on Linux. I won’t go into their phone in this post, but I saw that they had a rather affordable laptop for $199. This obviously wasn’t going to be the best laptop in the world, but for my purposes it seemed like it would get the job done. So I put the order in for one and waited.

And wait I did. They apparently make these things in pretty small damn batches. Maybe a month later, it came in.

Misadventure number one: I knew I was going to have to pay European Union VAT taxes to get here, so I was expecting to pay an additional 24% on top of the original cost (the bastards charged me the 24% percent on the cost with the shipping fees, which I thought was really nickle and diming me. But whatever). What I wasn’t expecting is that the Greek arm of DHL would strong-arm me out of an additional 60euro for doing the paper work to import it. That seemed high. If you want to pay the fees yourself, DHL charges you 50euro to release it, and then you can go pay for it yourself. I did research this a bit, and it seems to be common here. So fuck you DHL.

So I got my new little laptop and started setting it up to be used.

Misadventure number two: The processor this laptop is based off of is not your standard laptop processor. I doubt I can speak to this with much sophistication, but it is a processor more akin to the ones you find in smartphones. I had no idea that computer programs have to be set up in a different way based on the processor. But I come to find out that there really isn’t a lot of programs available for this laptop. Importantly for me, Zoom doesn’t work on this thing.

Shit. I am not a hacker. I am not a computer science guy. I am Ned fucking Ludd the XXVII.

I only have myself to blame. This is something I could have researched further before purchasing. Well, sort of. The thing is, if something is so far out of your conception you don’t even consider looking into it. Go knock on a few doors and ask people ‘Hey, do you think Zoom works on an ARM processor?’ and people will either A) slam the door in your face, or B) assure you that Zoom will run on anything, even your fucking toaster.


Ok, both of these things are mild irritations at best.

As unbiasedly as possible, there is an additional stress to getting a new laptop. I have been using laptops pretty exclusively since I was in college (yea, I was a dorky kid), and would find myself with a new one every some years. A new laptop always meant the same pain to – learning how to retype. I have to admit, this one hasn’t been that much of a pain, although it has been giving my some problems.

But so far none of these things have been absolute major issues. I have heard people complain about the fact that the battery life on these machines turned out not to be great. That hasn’t been my experience. The main complaint is that the battery drains pretty quickly if you set the machine up to sleep. There is a pretty easy work around to this. I shut the fucking thing off when I don’t use it.

Well, so far so good with this machine. Against all odds, I don’t exactly hate it. It’s been getting the job done pretty well, and I appreciate the security of having a back up laptop should my first one go belly up. But the thing that is letting me manage is the fact that I don’t really do very much right now with my laptops. None of my jobs are all that laptop intensive. Let’s see what happens should I ge ta job that really needs one.

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