Thursday, August 09, 2007

Neo Update

Two weeks ago I said that I was buying an "AlphaSmart Neo" as a productivity aid and an encouragement to write. My Neo deserves a blog entry of its own, and it's only fitting that I compose it in the expected way: sitting on my balcony with this gorgeous little device on my lap.

I was worried it would look childish; it was primarily developed for school kids, after all. Despite the large font used for the keyboard keys, however, it's nicely sedate and can pass for a professional device. There are no dancing pandas on it and it's not even neon.

I've had it for less than 24 hours and I'm already getting something out of it. I can escape all distractions -- and the distracting word processor on my actual computer -- and just type away. Quickly, efficiently. Quietly, with keys that have just enough "click" to them. Free from the tyranny of italics and boldface and page formatting: type, type, return key, tab key. Type, type, return. That's all it does.

I was afraid it would be broken. Other than an initial problem transferring files to it from my Mac (the capital I's became inverted exclamation points), a simple upgrade to the computer software has made for trouble-free usage.

Things it doesn't have, but it should: a method of controlling the key repeat delay, which is far too slow when you're editing text. Sensible keyboard shortcuts would be nice too; they're hackneyed and weird and there are far too many of them to ever remember. And hey, why not a port for flash card storage? Or a clock?

Things it doesn't have, by sensible design: there's no mouse. The screen is big enough for typing, but not quite large enough for effective editing. Surprisingly, nobody has reverse-engineered the operating system and built a Z-Machine interpreter for it.

The only thing that really bothers me is this: when you select text and then hit a key, the selected text doesn't go away unless you hit DELETE or BACKSPACE, which is not the way that typical word processors work (but it's probably a good idea in the absence of an "Undo" function).

None of that is very important. You're supposed to type a draft on the Neo, then send it to your computer for further editing. And if I spend enough time using the navigation and shortcut keys then I'm sure I'll learn the essentials.

So yes, I love this thing. I love its simplicity and its motivating power: when I grin at my Neo it doesn't grin back, and I'm forced to get down to work instead of checking my email. Again.

Now the real question is: what do I call it? I need a name that communicates cool, friendly professionalism, but doesn't imply that I'm ripping off the style of somebody I respect. So "Miss Laurie Anderson" is out.

Now, at my computer, I just plug the Neo into the USB port and click send. Through some sort of keyboard emulation, the text appears here in my blogger interface as though I were typing it. Then I add some links and formatting, and you can almost smell the fresh breeze that this entry was composed in!


Eric Little said...

Thanks--sounds pretty useful, especially since laptops aren't really made for the top of laps anymore.

And like I said, you can sit there and click away and tell it, "Mr. Anderson, that is the sound of inevitability," and it can answer you, "My name is NEO!"

VanillaJ said...

Jenna says: "Give me back my Neo. Gahaaa!"

Anonymous said...

omg, i miss Jenna

Muffy St. Bernard said...

The Neo DEFINITELY fits on a lap; it isn't heavy and produces no significant heat. You can order a carrying bag with it, and with a little bit of manipulation you can use the bag (and its other contents) to prop up the Neo any way you like.

I did notice that all of the paragraphs in my blog entry ended up being the same length! I think I'm unconsciously trying to format my paragraphs so they won't overrun the screen, and since my tendency is towards LONG paragraphs they all end up fitting EXACTLY. I'm sure I'll get over it.

Yup, I can't recommend the Neo enough. And you don't have to feed it or walk it either.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Hey Jenna, YOUR Neo IS the one with the Neon pandas. Hands off, party girl!

I miss Jenna too. How quickly the world forgets its icons...

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