The Laptop Sutra

After too long a time, Sutra is again under my fingers. It feels good to have her back.

Wait, did I just call my computer “her”? Wow. I guess the years of familiarity have finally given way to my granting anthropomorphic qualities to a laptop.

I got this laptop sometime around the sumer of 2000. I was working for a company called Array Services as a technical writer, and my father agreed to get me the laptop so I could work from home. Because of my status as his dependent at that time, he was able to deduct the price — all $2000 of it ($3000 after interest charges and tax) — from his taxes. (I, and the other 3 employees of the company, worked as independent contractors. It was a really small company: we worked out of a guy’s server-filled back room. With no air conditioning. Being in Florida, it goes without saying that summers sucked.) Before this, there had been a debate going on between us as to whether I should get a car or a laptop. He pointed out that with a car it didn’t matter what job I had: I could use it as a tool everywhere I went in order to make more money. I pointed out that in this day and age of ultra connectivity (pfft!), my having a laptop at home — actually, a newer computer, since our other one was slower than a turtle swimming in an ocean of molasses — would be an asset which would allow me to work from home, hence eliminating the need for a car, so long as I could still get someone to drive me to and from school.

[hmtad name=”120×600 Skyscraper Within Articles” align=”floatleft”]He bought the argument and we went ahead and got the laptop. As it turns out we were both right: I ended up needing a car anyway, even though after moving on from Array Services I was able to get a couple more jobs working from home. Or rather, from the local Borders book store, which was the real reason I wanted the laptop in the first place: why work from a hot, tiny office covered in Sun Solaris and SGI O2/Irix servers when I could instead be sipping on a cup of java while surrounded by every reference book I would ever need?

As could be expected, I didn’t last in Array Services all that long. Not because of my immaturity, but because of 9/11. After the attacks happened, it wasn’t long before the company shut its doors and I was out of a job.

Throughout this time, Sutra, a Dell Inspiron 8000, was running either Windows ME or Red Hat Linux. This turned out to be a great move because it allowed me to learn more about Linux, to the point where I seriously considered getting my RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer). It also allowed me to test out other Linux distributions and software I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to try out. This again turned out to be an advantage, since it got me a job as a writer in a few other places which were of interest to me. Had it not been for Sutra, I don’t believe I would have had either of those experiences, nor the great experiences which came with them, like the time I was asked to review a robotics system which allowed you to use the your laptop as the robot’s brain (including, thought the use of cameras, its visual cortex), and which I trained to chase my cat. After that point I could always say, with a straight face, that I had an extra brain at the house, one which had a penchant for scaring my cat.

Now, for the record, Sutra wasn’t always her name. While I have always kept this computer primarily for writing, its name changed various times, in accordance with whatever had been going on in my life at the time. When I first named it, the computer was called Krishna, named the such after I decorated her with a sticker I got from one of the Hare Krishnas passing out literature at USF. At that time I wasn’t too familiar with eastern cultures, so when they handed me their book, which, from what I could gather, refuted everything Buddhist, all I could do was say “Uhm… OK,” and walk away. Still, I got a cool looking sticker from the deal.

As it turns out, naming her Krishna proved to be a really bad move. After naming her that, weird stuff started happening, like the hard drive being inexplicably wiped out for no reason, and the screen freezing, then over heating for, again, no reason. (I attributed the hard drive problems to this computer not liking the “ext3” file system common in many Linux distributions, and the screen problems I later found out were related to a faulty video driver for this laptop model in the SuSE Linux 8.x series.) This was at this time I learned about the value of backups.

Someone once convinced me that this is what I got for naming my laptop after a “joker god”, so I renamed her Yoda. Never thought you’d ever hear Yoda referred to as a “she”, did you? Don’t worry: neither did I. At that time I hadn’t yet assigned a gender to my laptop.

Note: I have no idea where this guy got the idea that Krishna was a joker god, so if anyone reading this can tell me why he would say that, please go for it. Krishna didn’t seem much like a jokester in the Gita, but maybe I missed something.

Unlike Krishna, the incarnation of Yoda stuck around for a long time, much longer than any other name I would later put upon the system, most of which were functional, like “BizLaptop” and “Inspiron8000” (oooh, real original there, Gnorby). During that entire time, Yoda ran on Linux, usually SuSE. A while before I got married the system was reborn as a Mandrake system, and in accordance with tradition, I renamed the system Naru, since I spent all my time at home watching Love Hina fansubs on it. (Is it just me, or does not having a television make single guys more prone to downloading anime from BitTorrent or P2P sites?)

After I got married, Naru became my wife’s system, since it was the only system in the house capable of running Windows. (I have another computer here, much more powerful, which Windows won’t run on for some reason.) To be honest, the only reason Naru became a Windows computer system again was because I was too cheap to buy something like VMware or CrossOver Office. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have touched the stuff. For a while the system actually ran Windows XP, instead of ME, but it seems that operating system’s requirements were a bit too high for this 192MB, 650MHz PIII laptop, reminding us all too often of the the turtle in the ocean of molasses from years past. I then returned the system to running its original copy of Windows ME, which The Wife used for only a short while before she decided she’d had enough: Windows ME was simply too painful to use.

Last month, The Wife and I finally decided to get ourselves a new Laptop. The computers in our house are aging, and while the desktop system still have a few years of prime time going for it, the Inspiron 8000 is on its proverbial last legs. After we got the new laptop, a Dell Inspiron 1501, we debated what we should do with this system which had been with me for so long. Should we donate it, or can we use it for anything else?

Being the sentimental pack rat that I am, I decided against giving it away just yet, since I figured this system could still be used for its original purpose: to write. I downloaded a few copies of Linux and once I found the one I liked most (thank God for LiveCD’s) I loaded it on the system. Time, it seems, is not one to leave anyone or anything behind. As I again got acquainted with the system, I discovered a few quirks, such as the intermittently working “i” key and the rather lose Synaptics touch pad. Still, the system was just as much a joy to use as the day I got it.

After installing Linux again, I considered returning this laptop to one of its previous incarnations — Krishna, Yoda, Naru — but decided I should name her something which made sense with where I am now. After some consideration, she war reborn as Sutra, which is defined as “a collection of aphorisms relating to some aspect of the conduct of life.” ( Considering I’ll be using this laptop to write and work on my writing skills, I think that makes sense. Also in accordance with tradition, I decided to make the system’s background befitting the name, so it currently sports desktop wallpapers featuring sayings from the Diamond Sutra. You can find that background and others at

As I write this it is about 6:20 PM EST on 17 February 2007. I am sitting in a dark room, facing an open window, and the cold air outside is cooling the rest of the house. The desk on which Sutra sits is directly in front of that window, in the bedroom of my apartment. Behind me is The Wife, who’s been napping for about an hour now, and, from the sounds of it, just now waking up.

And, of course, after too long a time — almost 3 years — Sutra is again under my fingers. It feels good to have her back.

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