The Mythic I

The result was The Mythic I, a custom computer that McNamara handcrafted over the year or so that followed that momentous afternoon at the Met. The machine is housed in a swooping hardwood frame carved using manual tools. An eight-inch screen is mounted above a 1980’s IBM-style keyboard with big clacking keys that McNamara carefully lubricated to achieve exactly the right sound on each strike: “if you have dry rubbing of plastic, it doesn’t sound thock-y. It just sounds cheap.” Below the keyboard is an Italian leather hand rest. To turn it on you insert and turn a key and then flip a toggle switch.

Equally notable is what happens once the machine is activated. McNamara designed the Mythic for three specific purposes: writing a novel, writing occasional computer code, and writing his daily journal. Accordingly, it runs a highly-modular version of Linux called NixOS that he’s customized to only offer emacs, a text-based editor popular among hacker types, that’s launched from a basic green command line. You can’t go online, or create a PowerPoint presentation, or edit a video. It’s a writing a machine, and like the antique arms that inspired it, the Mythic implements this functionality with a focused, beautiful utilitarianism.

Originally discovered in this newsletter post: On Tools and the Aesthetics of Work - Cal Newport