Once upon a time, the goal of laptop manufacturers was to free us from our desktop shackles. With each successive generation of portable computer, the promise was not necessarily speed or high performance, but simply freedom.
The earliest portables offered nothing of the sort. I recall the original 1984 model Macintosh being touted as "portable" because it had a handle on top. It weighed slightly more than a Volkswagen, but if you were a member in good standing of the Bulgarian weightlifting team, you could happily lug it about to the nearest power point.
Then there was the "Macintosh Portable". Smaller and more compact than a desktop Mac, it managed to weigh roughly twice as much, thanks to the batteries. You needed two Bulgarians to heft it.
These days, portables really are portable. Couple of kilos, tops. With huge, clear screens, massive hard drives and fast processors. The promise now is that these compact workhorses will not only be more portable than a Volkswagen, but more powerful than a locomotive.
But here's the rub: all that power means heat, and all that heat means you cannot, unless you are a masochist, use a laptop on your lap.
Sometimes, I try to get a day's work done whilst sitting in bed with my laptop (ah, the joys of a home office). Except that the computer, sitting on the blankets, gets extreeeeemely hot.
So I bought a tray. High-quality, medical-grade polymer. Not a tea-and-scones tray, but a serious example of the tray-maker's craft. Sitting in bed, I put the computer on the tray, and it allows air to flow underneath, cooling the machine and sparing my lap.
As I write this, the computer is sitting on said tray. The tray is warped. The computer, atop it, is perched at a jaunty angle. The thought crosses my mind what damage that same heat might have done to my lap area had I had the computer so placed. It isn't a pretty picture.
Since I got my laptop I've become acutely aware of the number of people around me who have laptops. I've noticed they don't use their laptops on their laps either. And the reason is always the same: it gets too hot.
Portable computer users made it clear that we were not prepared any longer to sacrifice power for portability, so the makers gave us power in portable packages. And we can't bear to touch them for fear of injury.
What's needed is cooling. Perhaps we could have little, itty-bitty tanks of liquid nitrogen hanging off the sides? Sure, we'd have to refill them almost daily, but it seems a small price to pay.
Matthew JC. Powell is investigating a pair of heat-resistant boxers. Suggestions to email@example.com.