AlphaSmart Neo: Further Considerations

As with everything else new, there’s a learning curve. Fortunately, with the AlphaSmart Neo, it’s not very steep.

At first I was concerned about being able to add special characters and symbols, such as é, î, or even ™ or ©.

Already taken care of! The Neo was, after all, designed to be used in educational settings, so it was part of the original design. Pressing CTRL-H brings up a help screen, including both International and Greek/Symbols key combinations.

For example, typing OPTION E then E results in “é.” For me, this is more than a mere option: without this feature, I wouldn’t be able to type my middle name, “Sinéad” (Irish for “Jane.”

Another blessing is the lack of both auto-complete and auto-check abilities: on both my iPad and iPhone I was constantly having to go back and correct “myself” to “my” because both devices thought they knew better than me.

Still, I will admit that at times I miss the onscreen suggestions of words I can pick to insert. But it’s definitely not a deal-breaker.

Things I Miss

Being able to insert pictures and images. Then again, being able to go on the Internet and searching for anything would defeat the goal of distraction-free writing, so I simply wait until I’ve transferred the files to my laptop to do that.

The ability to use italics, bold-face, or otherwise format my text. Again, I leave that up to the laptop.

I’d like to be able to set the auto-off time to something other than 4 minutes (the default) but that’s the lowest it can go (the maximum is 59 minutes). I’m obsessed with saving battery power—but since 3 AA batteries will last for 700 minutes of use—I can get used to it. And if I’m going to the kitchen to brew a cup of tea, I can simply shut the Neo off. It’s an acceptable trade-off,since sometimes I’ll stare out the window for a minute or two whilst I gather my thoughts. After all, we writers are always writing, even when we’re staring off into space.

Besides, one simply cannot write without a decent cup of tea to hand.

My Workflow

Even though I’ve only had my Neo since last Wednesday, I’ve already figured out a workflow that suits me: Once I’ve transferred a file from the Neo to my laptop (and backed it up as well), I open the file on the Neo and select the Clear File function. When prompted, I select Y (for yes), and it’s gone, freeing up that space for a new file.

That’s pretty much it for now. As always, as I learn or discover more I’ll share it with you right here. Oh, yeah: I’m already doing most of my writing on the Neo. I really do like it that much!

Yet Another New Tool!

Neo

As a writer, I find the biggest problem with modern technology is all of the potential distractions. I love writing on my iPhone, iPad, or laptop, but it’s too easy to get distracted by email, IMs, Google searches, etc.

For example, I’ll need to check Wikipedia for information. I find it, but there are so many interesting links in the article, and 30 minutes later I’m down the rabbit hole with Alice only to discover when I surface that I’ve lost my original thought.

Enter the AlphaSmart Neo. Originally designed as a basic word processor for schools, it’s found a new following among writers. It originally cost $200 per unit, and it’s no longer being manufactured. But you can find them on eBay–which is where I bought mine (brand new) for $20.

So what’s the big deal? it’s really quite simple: it’s a word processor. It doesn’t connect to the Internet, so it affords me hours of distraction-free writing. Once I’m done, I can connect it via USB cable to my laptop, open a Word or Libre Writer or Scrivener document, and send the file over from my Neo.

It powers up almost instantaneously, relying as it does on 3 AA batteries which folks I’ve talked with say will give me about a year’s worth of power, or roughly 700 hours.

Mine arrived today, and so I’m still getting used to it. I’ll be giving a more thorough review in a week or so, after I’ve had the opportunity to put it through its paces.

Oh, yes: I wrote this article on my new toy! It’s more like writing on a typewriter than on a computer. And another thing: it only displays 4 lines at a time, so there’s no temptation to go back and edit as I write.

It has a spell-checker, with the option to add new words to the built-in dictionary, as well as a (very primitive) thesaurus.

When I turn it on, it returns to my last position in the last file I was working on, which is handy.

I also like being able to add to a file without caring about where it fits best: I just write without editing, and then edit the document once I’ve sent it to the laptop.

The display is bright enough to use the Neo out of doors–at least in the shade.

Indeed, as I’m writing this I’m sitting outside in an Adirondack chair, enjoying the fresh air.

I thought about buying a protective case for it, but I’m not about to shell out a hundred bucks for a case for a $20 item!

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a new tech item since 1981, when I bought my first computer–a Kaypro CP/M computer.

Larry, the Orcas, and Me

A Memoir

Photo by Tim Cole on Unsplash

1973, Petersburg, Alaska. Larry and I were house-sitting for a family of friends who were traveling to Seattle for a vacation. They had left us with one rule: we had to provide our own food. Other than that, we were free to use anything the house had to offer.

This included their 15-foot fiberglass skiff. The house backed onto the Wrangell Narrows, a stretch of water that ran between Mitkof and Kupreanof islands. As you probably guessed from the name, it ran between Wrangell Island in the South and Petersburg on Mitkof Island in the north — and it could be very narrow and shallow, depending on the tides.

In fact, the Alaska Marine Highway System — which operates the sea-going ferries that ply the waters between Washington and Alaska — has to base its schedules around the tides in order to make sure the boats have enough water under their hulls when they approach the Narrows.

Larry and I both knew this, and we both were competent at handling boats. Larry, as a commercial fisherman, and me, as a seasoned sailor. So we knew enough to inspect the skiff before we took her out. This included making sure we had enough fuel in the tanks to get us out and back.

Since we were only going to motor across to Kupreanof Island — a vast and epic journey of maybe 50 yards — we didn’t expect any trouble. It was slack tide when we left.

Five minutes later, we were tied to a tree on Kupreanof, and spent an hour or so exploring the island. Big surprise! Kupreanof Island only differed from Mitkof Island is size and lack of human habitation: Kupreanof was larger, while Mitkof had the city of Petersburg — if one could call a town with a year-round population of 2500 people a “city.”

We took another hour to eat the lunches we had packed, and drinking a few bottles of Pepsi (if memory serves me right). Then we untied the boat, started the engine, and headed back across the Narrows.

Halfway across, the outboard motor quit. No problem — we had oars, so we were going to row the last 25 yards.

That’s when the problem hit us: the tide had turned, and we couldn’t row! Have you ever tried to row a heavy boat against a 6 knot tidal current? If we didn’t solve the problem — and quickly — we knew we were in deep water (literally!).

That’s when they came. (Cue scary horror movie soundtrack {maybe the theme from Jaws?}.)

Two large Orcas — killer whales — surfaced next to us, one on either side of the boat, and each once longer than the boat itself. I tried — unsuccessfully — not to be afraid; after all, the local Tlingit and Haida Indians indigenous to Southeast Alaska considered the creatures to be special protectors of humans, and that seeing one was considered a good omen. Yes, I knew all this, and yet….

I guess they knew what they were talking about, those wise elders. The Orcas pressed against the sides of the hull, sandwiching us between them. They then gave big sweeps of their tales, propelling us forward with just enough speed to reach the shore before releasing us and heading for deeper water.

Ever since then I’ve considered the Orca to be my spirit animal.

I’m not a big fan of the supernatural, but I do agree that there are more things in heaven and earth, as some Danish guy once said. So I don’t know if was a coincidence or a result of a good omen, but my daughter was born just over a year later in Petersburg.

Anyway, that’s how I became an admirer of Orcas, the so-called “killer whales.”

Some Shockin’ Good!

St. Paul's Anglican Church, Harbour Grace

St. Paul’s Anglican Church

St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Harbour Grace, Newfoundland

The Internet is a Strange and Wondrous Thing

Especially for people with Attention Deficit Disorder, like me. I woke up this morning wanting to text my daughter, to share a memory. Some background is in order:

My family’s ancestral home is in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Several years ago—decades, really—my father, his mother, a sister and a brother, visited the town. One of the souvenirs he brought back was a vinyl recording of Newfoundland songs.

One of our favorites was Dick Nolan singing “Aunt Martha’s Sheep.” It was that song I wanted to share with my daughter. So I fired up Google and entered the song title.

One of the hits was the link above, which will take you to YouTube so you can watch it. Another one takes you to Wikipedia, and I hope you’ll read the entry there, especially the part under “The Rest Of The Story,” where you’ll learn of the song’s connection to Harbour Grace.

Anyway, after the “Aunt Martha” video finished, it went on to the next song, “Some Shockin’ Good.”

Naturally, I Googled that phrase as well, which took me to the newest blog I’m following, Some Shockin’ Good.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the Internet works to bring the world together.

On Being a Parent Without a Holiday

Happy, uh, Whatever You Are Day?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Ah, springtime! Holidays, anniversaries, and all sorts of reasons for celebrations!

Graduations. Weddings. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day.

But No Day For Me

And no day for thousands of other men and women like me. I am a Transwoman. I have two daughters and three grandsons. One of my grandsons was IFAB (Identified Female at Birth) but has finally begun his own journey, similar to and yet different from mine.

By the time I was able to start the long process of becoming my true self, my daughters were already grown. They had never known me as the woman I am, but rather the empty husk they had grown up calling “Daddy.” In those days, I got Father’s Day cards every year. Now, nothing.

So at least in that sense, they’ve finally come to accept who I am — and so there are no more cards for me. But in accepting me, and acknowledging the changes I’ve made and am still making, there’s no recognizing the fact that I’m no longer “Daddy,’ but some other kind of parent for which they have no name. I’m certainly not “Mommy” or “Momma” or any other title that reflects the new reality of who I am.

If I were a reasonable person — something of which I’ve never been accused — I suppose I could comfort myself by celebrating Grandparent’s Day. I’ve been told that I should console myself with the knowledge that I’m not the only Trans* parent facing the same problem.

But no. Just because there are so many of us facing the same problem holds no comfort for me. Instead, it angers me. I am enraged by the fact that my transitioning — which for me and so many others — was a life-saving decision is used to discriminate against me simply for BEING WHO I AM.

But rather than rage, rage against the dying of the light, I have chosen June 6 — my original birth date and the day my friends surprised me with a surprise birthday party, the theme of which was ‘Happy Birthday 1-Year-Old — to celebrate as my personal Mother’s Day. I’ll wrap myself in my Transgender Pride flag, take a few selfies, and pick the best of them to serve as the basis of my very own Happy Trans-mother’s Day e-Card.

It’s much more satisfying than simply ranting on my blog….