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.

Scribophile: An On-Line Writing Community

Are you like me? You’d love to join a writing community so you can discuss ideas, problems, etc., but you have no transportation and would rather spend the 4-hour bus ride writing?

Or maybe you’re in a town that’s too small to have a writer’s group. Maybe your only access to a public library is via the Internet.

Then pour yourself a nice cup of tea, find a comfy chair, and let me tell you all about Scribophile. Here’s what the site has to say about itself:

Scribophile is a respectful online writing workshop and writer’s community. Writers of all skill levels join to improve each other’s work with thoughtful critiques and by sharing their writing experience.

We’re the writing group to join if you want to find beta readers, get the best feedback around, learn how to get published, and be a part of the friendliest and most successful writing workshop online.

Scribophile is famous for the detailed and helpful critiques our members exchange. The critiques you’ll get are so much more than just a pat on the back—you’ll get actionable ways to improve your writing.

As part of our community, you’ll be writing critiques for others too. Members tell us again and again that learning how to write great critiques dramatically improved their own writing.

I first learned about Scribophile from an article I read on Medium and decided to check it out. I did, and it so impressed me that I created an account.

In fact, I was so impressed that I went back the next day and upgraded from a free to a premium account. For just a little more than a latte and a little less than a pack of cigarettes I now have access to all of the site’s features.

Pay It Forward

Scribophile expects you to contribute to the site. But not with money. Rather, before you can post your own story for review, you have to gain karma points. It costs you 5 karma points to upload each story.

You gain can karma points in any number of ways: writing a critique of someone else’s work, posting comments, and just generally being a polite and active member. I’ve only been a member for 2 days, and I’ve already received 2 karma points. As soon as I earn 5, I’ll upload my first work to be critiqued.

Why This Makes Sense

At first, I resented that I couldn’t upload a story until I earned the required karma points. But the longer I thought about it,  the more t made sense: you can’t come barging in demanding that everybody read your work and then run off. You have to earn the right to have your work critiqued.

That approach also keeps people active in groups and forums.

Scribophile: your online writer’s group. Give it a try!

Different Strokes for Different Notes

Or, I’m always on the lookout for The Ultimate Note-Taking App

freestocks-org-570357-unsplash

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Sadly, it doesn’t seem to exist. IA Writer comes close, but it still doesn’t have all the features I’d like. Note’d is pretty nifty, but it too lacks the features I need. Standard Notes has all the features…but you have to pay $10 a month to get them. It is available, however, for all your devices: iPhones, iPads, Windows machines, MacOS devices, and Android smartphones and devices. So if I create/edit/delete a note on my iPhone, it syncs to my iPad and my laptop.

(As an aside, before I went completely digital, my ultimate notepad was a Rite-in-the-Rain notepad and a pencil.)

Which brings us to Apple Notes. From what I’ve seen of it—and used it—it seems to be the best all-around note-taking app available for iOS and MacOS: iPad, iPhone, and Macs. The problem is that in addition to an iPhone and an iPad,I have a laptop running Windows.

Apple Notes started out as a bare-bones note-taking app. But Apple, like just about every other software publisher, lost sight of the First Rule of Engineering: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

Over time, Apple Notes has been tweaked and massaged and upgraded until it’s now just a short step away from being a full-blown word processor. And if I’m going to use a word processor for taking notes, I might just as well use Notes’ big sister, Pages, which runs on all of my devices.

The Ultimate Test

So I’ve decided what I’m going to do: I’ve downloaded  all the apps I listed above and installed them on the appropriate devices. For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to use each of them to jot down the same notes. At the end of the test period, I’ll decide which one I like the best, based on ease of use. Then I’ll get back to you with the results.

 

 

On Writing On My iPhone, Revisited

Apple iPhone 10X

A Brief History of Technology

It’s funny how succeeding generations take technology for granted. My Nana’s first electric refrigerator must have seemed to her to be a miracle. Nowadays the only time I consciously think about it is when I’m looking in it to make my grocery list.

And even that is more about food and shopping than it is about the refrigerator itself.

June 29, 2007

Not exactly a Day of Infamy.

I sat at the Apple iPhone help desk on the evening of its release. Even though we had just completed 2 weeks of intensive training on the operation and capabilities of the device, that evening was the first time any of us had actually seen one, much less had an opportunity to work with it.

One iPhone between 8 techs. No wonder callers were frustrated.

Now my grandchildren all carry iPhones. And while I still look at mine with an occasional sense of wonder, to them it ain’t no big thang.

During those weeks of training, I had an epiphany: this was no mere mobile phone! No. What Apple had done was figure out how to fit an entire computer in the palm of your hand!

It’s 11 and a half years later as I write this. Cell phone (or if you’re British, mobile) usage has exploded. The phones themselves have evolved into various flavors of smartphone, and whereas they were once considered a luxury, they have become for many of us an essential part of life.

Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few people I know don’t even go into their own bathrooms without it!

But Here’s the Thing…

I love my iPhone X, which I once swore I would never own. My next upgrade was to be to the 8S or Plus or Z or whatever was the top of the line 8 at the time.

But my carrier had a special offer: buy one iPhone X and get a second one free! And so I decided on the X, not realizing that it was about to be replaced by a few newer, more improved models.

But that’s on me. My iPhone X still runs circles around my old 6S Plus.

Writing and Publishing

I’ve written before on how I love writing on my iPhone. How it’s become my main writing tool for whatever site I’m writing: Medium, letters to the editor, blog posts—you name it, I’ve written to it on my iPhone!

And on Medium and WordPress, at least, published as well.

That’s About to Change

Ever have an improvement that really wasn’t? When I bought my new laptop 3 years ago, a Windows 10 machine, it booted blindingly fast. Now, after a long series of updates, upgrades, and “improvements,” I can turn it on and almost have time to get dressed, go downstairs, eat breakfast, and wash the dishes before heading back upstairs in time to see the damn machine is ready—finally—for use.

With the release of iOS 12.1.1, my iPhone is still blindingly fast—compared to my original Motorola flip-phone.

And there are far more things that are easier and faster to do on my laptop than on my iPhone. Things specifically related to publishing what I write.

Even Medium’s own mobile app isn’t designed to publish straight to Medium; more and more often I find I need my laptop to prepare my stories for final publication.

The Solution

So here’s what I’ve decided.

(What? Did you seriously think I was going to invest all this time bitching about things without offering a solution? You obviously don’t know me very well.)

I’m still doing the bulk of my writing on my iPhone, with an occasional detour to the iPad.

But rather than publishing (in Medium’s case, posting) what I write directly to the web or wherever, I’ll save my drafts. Then I’ll move to the laptop to massage them, add images and links, make them pretty, and then publish them.

And Apple? I’m sorry, my old friend, but I was wrong: you still haven’t managed to put a computer in the palm of my hand.

And as we techies like to say in our own inimical, technobabbly way, “Close, but no cigar.”

Image: Plasencia Cigars