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November 30, 2009

High Level Laptopping

Filed under: Main — Tags: — Dan Gookin @ 12:01 am

I remember the first time I actually got to use a laptop computer in an airplane. It was 1989.

Sadly, the event was before I bought my NEC Ultralight laptop. That computer represented a more modern laptop design: 7 lbs. (which was considered very light back then) and thin. Sadly, I didn’t own the Ultralight when I finally got to use a computer on an airplane.

Nope, it was the Dell 320LT that I used aloft.

The Dell 320LT was a beast of a laptop, if you even want to call it a laptop. It weighed in at 24 lbs. The thing was huge: barely fitting under an airline seat. And it had these hulking batteries, about the size of a paperback book, which lasted only for 30 minutes or so.

I typically would drag the 320LT with me to San Francisco in those days. Its real purpose was as a desktop computer, mostly due to its immense weight and limited battery life. But it featured a 386 processor, which meant it could run a lot of powerful programs back in those days. So I got mileage out of it.

The biggest problem with the 320LT was the case. You see, I had ordered the inexpensive vinyl case. I didn’t want the more expensive, genuine leather case. It just looked too bulky.

When the 320LT arrived, it came with the leather case I didn’t want. Dell put a note in the 320LT’s box saying, “Because you’re such a valued customer, we went ahead and gave you the fancy, schmansy leather case at no charge. Enjoy it!” Or the note said something like that.

Anyway, I could see why Dell gave me the case. It was hulking! The thing was way too big because it was real damn leather! That means the laptop barely fit under the seat in front of me.

Regardless, the only chance I got to use the 320LT was on a return flight from San Francisco. I had been upgraded to First Class, so I figured I could stretch out and really use the laptop.
The first problem I had was that “First Class” on that flight was only one row of seats. Yep, there were only four First Class seats on the plane.

The second problem was that, being in a bulkhead row, I had no “seat in front of me” under which to place the laptop. The flight attendant had to stow my 320LT elsewhere on the plane.

Once airborne, I mustered the courage to ask for my behemoth laptop bag. I unpacked the laptop and set it up. Lo and behold, I was using it aloft. I felt like one of those people I read about who actually uses a computer on an airplane. I was Mr. Cool.

Naturally, I got no work done on the laptop. I might have only typed a few lines of text in WordPerfect or played a text-based game. That’s because the third problem I had was the short duration of the flight. But, man, I got to use a laptop on an airplane. It was weird, but cool.

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