1. Amontillado

    Amontillado Active Member

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    The fabled second coming of Alphasmart?

    Discussion in 'Writing Software and Hardware' started by Amontillado, Aug 12, 2022.

    https://alphasmart.com. I've heard rumors some developers from the Alphasmart of old are part of the team.

    Oh, please let it be true.

    If not, my Macbook isn't half bad. But portable writing at a picnic table in the sun - just like in the old Alphasmart days - that would be cool.

    700 hours run-time on three AA batteries, that was cool, too. I always replaced the batteries once a year. Generally they were only half gone.
     
  2. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Senior Member

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    I was excited to see the subject of this thread and I clicked the link. I see the brand "Freewrite" on there. Freewrite has already put out their own Alphasmart-style word processors. Last I checked, the cheapest model was $400. The machines are also reportedly buggy and the company offers pretty poor support. So my guess is that Freewrite is commandeering the Alphasmart brand to solidify their position as the sole manufacturers of these machines, and gouge the hapless writers nostalgic for the old Alphasmarts. I'm glad my Alphasmart Neo2, that cost me $20, is still working just fine.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2022
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  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    The screens on the Freewrite devices are way too small, especially at the prices they are charging.
     
  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Exciting news. Prompted by this thread I just ordered myself another Neo 2 off eBay. I already have one (plus an old Alphasmart 3000). I want to use one as my keyboard, and keep one for use as a portable. This keyboard I bought a few months back is terrible—half a dozen of the letters are worn off the keys already. How come that never used to happen, but it's happened to the last 4 or 5 keyboards I've bought? Maybe because they're cheap? The only more expensive ones I've seen are for gaming and have all kinds of bells and whistles I don't need just for typing.
     
  5. Amontillado

    Amontillado Active Member

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    I bought a Freewrite in an uncomfortable niche between their Kickstarter ending and their web site getting up to speed with a few details.

    Such as no error keys, and no hope to edit. Back in those days you couldn't even delete a file. You just had to ignore old files as they piled up.

    I think I had mine a couple of days before I gave it away to a reviewer. It was not a tool I could use.

    It might be valid to be a lot harsher, but there are people who get a lot of good out of Freewrites.

    The original units were not ruggedly assembled internally. I've been involved in rushed manufacture. The internals weren't really that bad, anyway.

    I got a ton of good from my old Neo's. I like the idea of uploading a document in progress before I left for work and downloading it on return. When the Alphasmart Manager was left behind by OS updates, it took some of the fun out.

    Hopefully they will hit a home run. If the new machine is an upgraded Freewrite or Traveler, I'm not interested. A truly upgraded Neo, that would be fantastic.
     
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  6. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    It happens because the glyphs used to be etched/engraved/impressed into the tops of the keys and were then filled with paint, whereas with current, cheap keyboards the glyphs are merely painted on.

    There's a company that sells replacement keyboard lettering. I've used their products to restore laptop keyboards that had the glyphs worn off, and once to convert a U.S. netbook computer to a South American Spanish keyboard layout for a youngster.

    https://www.amazon.com/keyboard-letters-replacement-stickers/s?k=keyboard+letters+replacement+stickers
     
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  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    That's what I assumed, but I don't have any of my old keyboards to check. I considered putting a big drop of epoxy glue on top of each key to protect the letters. That would be uncomfortable though. I also considered trying to etch the letters in and fill with paint. It would look awful.

    The keys on the Neo 2 don't have recessed letters, but even though I used it as my keyboard for many months (at least half a year) none of them are even slightly worn off. There seems to be a clear coat over them.

    Not only that, but the action on it is way smoother than any keyboard I've ever used (except the notebook keyboards, which I don't like).
     
  8. Amontillado

    Amontillado Active Member

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    I remember the keys on the old HP calculators were double injection molded. The only way to wear off the key legend was to wear the key into a pile of dust.
     
  9. Earp

    Earp Contributor Contributor

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    This guy shows up now and then with another load of Alphasmarts. If you're not anywhere near Bay City, Michigan the next time he appears, the auction house will ship for a fee.

    https://www.1bid.us/allitems/keyword_alphasmart
     
  10. Mogador

    Mogador Senior Member

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    I tried the Alphasmart Dana, Neo and Neo 2. They were all interesting but never quite found a useful niche for me, this despite being someone who has frequently found extensive real life uses for typewriters and older 90's word processors up to this day. To each their own.

    There is a great discussion about the Alphasmart Dana here: https://www.osnews.com/story/131180/the-alphasmart-dana-in-2019/

    Be sure to read the comments where people are talking about all the alternatives, old and new, including the Freewriter.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    The Pomera devices look kind of cool. Older models has e-ink screens. Looks like they switched to LCD later. The DM30 has folding keyboard.
     
  12. ps102

    ps102 Active Member

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    I didn't know about these, but is writing in such a small screen really something you can get used to?

    Also, the distraction-free feature looks quite nice, there won't be anything in the device to grab your attention, so it might just *beep*. Oh, wait, I just got something on my phone, just an e-mail and some social media stuff. Nothing too bad. So, uh, what was I saying?

    Maybe it was a good idea in the old times, but nowadays you have beeping things everywhere begging for your attention. Even some bloody lamps connect to the freaking WiFi.
     
  13. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Senior Member

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    For me, yes, because it's just about getting words down. I then upload the text to my laptop to edit later.
     
  14. Amontillado

    Amontillado Active Member

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    I never used my Neo to escape distractions. It gave me the freedom to write anywhere with absolutely no thought of battery life.
     
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  15. Mogador

    Mogador Senior Member

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    A problem with Alphasmarts and Freewriters is that they are less than the optimal 66-72* line length. I don't have the studies but they are out there; that's the line length for maximal ease of reading.

    Longer line lengths kill your eyes.

    Shorter line lengths are fine for sgort-to-medium length reading, such as newspaper columns, or phone screens, and Braille is only 28--40, but if you are plowing through text it slows you down and breaks up the flow.

    So that's a limit. But it depends on the writer as to how much that affects their writing. Me: Quite a lot, I can only do short form. Others are presumably fine with it.

    --------
    * Its actually 66, but 72 is an old standard the programmers amongst you will recognise from old FORTRAN cards (80 minus 8 for line numbers), and close enough.
     
  16. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    There's an approach to writing that says blast through the first draft without worrying about editing, just get the rough ideas down and finish the whole manuscript. Then refine and revise and edit in your successive drafts.

    This is operating on the prinicple I learned called Freewriting in a book by Peter Elbow called Writing With Power. Here's a blog post I did about it that gets across the gist of the concept: Creative Thinking versus Criticism

    Basically, there are two modes of thought. You're either in creative mode or critical mode. As soon as you start editing and revising you enter critical mode, which is the enemy of creativity. The idea of freewriting is to remain in pure creative mode as much as possible by not editing or correcting typos, just write fast and don't stop. Come back in later, after the creation is done, and do all the critic stuff.

    A small screen is actually helpful toward this. If you have a big screen that allows you to comfortably read a page at a time the tendecy is to write a little, then sit back and read it and start thinking about how you want to edit it. The nice thing about using the Neo 2 (best Alphasmart device yet made for my money) is it sort of discourages this kind of approach. It seems designed to activate creative writing mode, and to discourage trying to edit. Editing on an Alphasmart (at least the 3000 or the Neo 2, the ones I've used) isn't easy. It's a little laborious to position the cursor where you need it, and then all you can do is delete letter by letter, you can't select a whole word or block of text and delete that. Well, this is perfect! Alphsamart wasn't made to be an editing machine, and it's hard to do!! I use it just for writing in very much the Freewriting mode, and then download it onto the computer where I do the editing.

    One thing I need to say—in the book Elbow talks only about the pure freewriting approach, which is what's basically known as automatic writing, where you just write up a bunch of gibberish nonsense. I'll often start a writing session that way just as a warmup and to loosen up and get into creative mode, but after a few minutes I'll move by stages toward writing scenes with my characters in a setting. I do a lot of freewriting exercises this way that I don't intend to actually be part of the story, but to figure out character dynamics etc. And when I'm actually writing the first draft itself I try to remain to a large extent in freewriting mode. I see it not as just pure gibberish writing, but that's one end of the spectrum. At the other end is where you labor to make sure all your spelling is correct and you edit as you go etc. I try not to write at that end of the spectrum at all for a first draft. I definitely don't just throw gibberish down on the page for a first draft, but I also don't correct typos or edit as I go. It's a matter of finding the sweet spot between the two extremes. Experiment with levels of freewriting for a while and you'll find it.

    It actually sounds like using a Neo 2 and some level of freewriting for a first draft would be perfect for your approach to writing.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2022
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  17. ps102

    ps102 Active Member

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    @Xoic actually makes the Alphasmart make much more sense, especially with the supporting theory. I might look into this one day.
    That
     
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  18. ps102

    ps102 Active Member

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    But I might still dislike the small screen :p I wonder if a typewriter is a suitable replacement. Editing is not exactly something you can on non-electronic typewriters. I have an Olivetti and I have to insert "correction paper" in between the heads and the paper if I want to make corrections.
     
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  19. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Honestly if you're not going to edit as you go you don't need a screen at all. That would be the total hardass approach. I often use the Neo 2 for doing movie analyses, where I sit on the couch and whenever I notice something going on in a movie that bears studying I write it up real quick. It's pretty dark on the couch, but I don't look at the screen anyway (of the Alphasmart I mean). There's no need to see what I already wrote, and really it would be nothing but a distraction. It makes you want to start correcting.

    Often when I download what I wrote on the computer it's a mess, some of the words aren't even words, but I know what I meant. And I like that. It's fine if you download and clean it up immediately after writing, because you still remember what you just wrote. If you'd wait a day or more you wouldn't remember and some of it would be gibberish. But it totally works for what I'm using it for. It's also how I do first drafts, though I do those on the computer (often using the Neo 2 as a keyboard—it's the best keyboard I've ever used by far). But when I'm operating in freewrite mode I often don't even look at the words on the screen. To look back is to leave the present moment, the eternal Now, and to enter into critic mode. Creative mode is right brain mode—it lives only in the present moment, it's holistic and sees the big picture without taking note of small imperfections or individual parts. Those are the realm of the left-brain critic, who dissects and separates.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2022
  20. Mogador

    Mogador Senior Member

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    It is a great keyboard. But it has a very irritating bug where if you hit the delete key it freezes up the keyboard and you have to unplug it and replug it before it starts working again. Stops me using it as I often delete forwards rather than backwards. Happens on Windows and Linux. I wouldn't know if it happens on Mac. Alphasmart were originally a very Mac focused company, so perhaps it doesn't.
     
  21. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    It's never happened to me, and I use a Mac. Well, I've also got a couple of PC laptops, don't remember if I've used the Neo2 as a keyboard on them or not.
     
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  22. Mogador

    Mogador Senior Member

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    Good to know. Let me know if you get a moment to run the experiment on Windows, would be much appreciated.

    I wonder if its a flaw in my Neo2. Had the same problem with the Neo1, mind. Or it could be me running it as British English. Hmm.
     
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  23. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Lol yes, maybe you overused the word 'as', substituting it for a whole plethora of other words... :supergrin:
     
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  24. Mogador

    Mogador Senior Member

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    Really? I hadn't noticed, but now I'm curious. Is that a Britishism or just poor grammar on my part? Should I not have said, 'running it as British English'?
    I do like learning the hidden differences in the various sorts of English.

    Back on the technicalities, in case it needs clarifying, I was speculating that maybe the Alphasmart firmware had a bug in its USB HID protocol when running it as British English. Sending an invalid character that makes the PC wait for input whenever you hit delete, or similar.
     
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  25. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Oh no, I've never noticed you doing it, but some ways back there was a discussion 'round these parts about some of the differences between the British and American versions of our 'umble language, and a few of the Britishers (is that a word?) went into hysterical detail about how people on the Islands can use and abuse that little word. I recall @Steve Rivers made a hysterical post consisting largely of it. I never new it could serve so many different purposes.

    In fact I had no idea you were British until you mentioned it recently. And I can often tell from subtle clues.
     
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