Canvas and my remote iPad

My older son’s notebook computer, an Asus bought a couple of years ago, has developed a hinge problem that’s reached the point where he doesn’t want to take it to class for fear of it falling apart. After talking over his needs, we decided he could get through the semester with my old MacBook Air. So I set it up for a new user, moved all of my files to an external disk, and delivered it to him yesterday. Coincidentally, on the drive back up through central Illinois, I listened to an episode of Canvas that gave decent explanation of why I could give up my notebook computer.

You could, of course, argue the every episode of Canvas is an explanation of how you can give up your notebook computer. It’s the podcast in which Federico Viticci and Fraser Speirs cover the software and work habits that allow you to use your iOS devices (especially the iPad) to accomplish things you might otherwise think you need a “real computer” to do. But Episode 52 was especially apropos because it covered SSH clients for iOS, which are the reason I feel comfortable in my current state, without a laptop computer for the first time in maybe 25 years or more.

I held off getting an iPad for several years, not because I thought it was a toy or a “consumption only” device, but because my work habits—lots of scripting and command-line use in a multi-window environment—weren’t aligned with the iPad’s strengths. I like to think I wasn’t an anti-iPad zealot during this time. I saw it as the perfect computer for many people, including my wife. I got her an iPad 2 back in 2011; she hasn’t touched a “real computer” since.

So when Split Screen and the iPad Pro were introduced, my ears pricked up. I got the 9.7″ model in late 2016 and have been slowly figuring out how to work with it. Panic’s Prompt and, more recently, the mosh1 client Blink Shell are my key apps. My typical setup is to have one of them on the right in Split Screen, connected to my iMac, while I edit in Textastic on the left. This edit/test system on my iPad is very similar to the BBEdit/Terminal window arrangement I use when working on a Mac.

The irony of using a modern, highly graphical device like the iPad to handle a remote, command-line connection to another computer is not lost on me. I often think back to using the Hazeltine terminal that was in a room around the corner from my graduate school office to connect to a Cyber 175 mainframe. And when my iPad is tethered to my iPhone, it’s not unlike using the Hazeltine’s acoustic coupler.

  1. Mosh, the mobile shell, is a secure connection like SSH, but is designed to handle more gracefully the interrupted communications common to mobile connections.