Sunday Snippet – Alphasmart by Bill Chance

“She’s not my wife,” the man said, “She’s my aunt, and she likes you.”

—–Bill Chance, random file from my Alphasmart Neo

Map Bag

My Not-A-Purse. What is strange is that I found this image floating around on the internet – I don’t know where it originally came from. But if you look, there is an Alphasmart Neo sticking up in the bag. I can’t believe other people out there have Neos in their bags, exactly like mine.

Over the decades I have been on a quest for the perfect, distraction-free, portable writing machine.

I have experimented with netbooks, phones with bluetooth keyboards and tablets with wired keyboards (which actually works well – but not in the sun).

My Toshiba Netbook – rode my bike to a coffee shop.

Bluetooth Keyboard and my phone.

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

My favorite (but long obsolete) solution, however, has always been the Alphasmart. It’s a portable keyboard, powered by double A batteries (which last years) with a tiny four line display. You type text into it and it keeps the text. To export, you USB the thing to your regular computer, hit SEND, and it retypes your text back into whatever program you want. Amazing and simple.

I used an Alphasmart 3000 for a couple years. I wasn’t happy with it – the keyboard was clunky and hard to type fast on. I replaced it with an upgraded version that had an excellent keyboard – the  Neo – which was really good. I still have it – I lost one key somewhere, but it isn’t an important one. I need to dig that thing out and start carrying it again.

The medium used to generate words (handwriting, Alphasmart, tablet, phone laptop, desktop, digital or tape recorder, manual typewriter, Dragon naturally speaking) has a huge influence on how I write. I think I’m going to dig out the Alphasmart Neo and carry it again. Since you can only see four short lines (a tiny bit of text) at any one time, it helps to kill off your internal editor – you just move on. It does tend to produce small bits of jarring snippets of text, however. These, hopefully, can be expanded and re-used later.

I found some files on my computer from many years ago labled “AS1, AS2, AS3…” and so one. These were collections of stuff I had written on the Alphasmart Neo up to a decade ago.

Here’s one:

I was about to leave a run-down roadhouse in Bumfucker, Arkansas, when I offered two bottles of Budweiser to a local couple I had just met.

“One for you and one for your wife.”

“She’s not my wife,” the man said, “She’s my aunt, and she likes you.”

Later I was lying on a noisy mattress in the back of her trailer, thinking, there are other people in this room. But they were only cats.

I’m actually sort of excited about bringing my Alphasmart Neo back from the dead. If you want one – they are readily available used for 35 bucks or so from Ebay.

That Time of Year Again

Trinity River in the Fall, December, three years ago
Dallas, Texas

“But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”
― Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

Riding my bicycle to the Dallas Farmer’s Market from the DART train station for September’s Critical Mass bike ride I felt a sensation as the breeze blew by me. For a minute, I was confused, “What is this?” I knew I had felt it before, but I didn’t remember it right away. Then, it popped into my mind.

I was cold.

It has been so long, I didn’t remember what it felt like to be cold.

Now this is the end of September/beginning of October… in Texas that’s really the tail end of summer, so it shouldn’t… I shouldn’t be cold. But it has been raining for days, that cold fall rain, leaving the air, if not frigid, at least comfortably cool.

Nothing to worry about, the Texas sun will fight through the cloud remnants and warm things up a time or two before the fall really arrives.

Bluetooth Keyboard and iPhone – another portable way to write stuff.

I’m struggling to get all my vacation time taken before the rapidly approaching end of the year – so I took a few hours off and came downtown a bit early. In my eternal quest for a method of writing that I can carry on my bicycle, I’m using this Bluetooth keyboard – torn out of an iPad case that I bought at a church rummage sale for six bucks. It has a slot that I can drop my phone in and I use an app called Compo to type into. Once I’m done I’ll email what I write to myself.

Fall Colors, November, three years ago
University of Texas at Dallas
Richardson, Texas
(click to enlarge)

Bluetooth and Orange Chicken

It is the end of 1982, and I am 38 years old. One day, at noon, I notice that my bike is steering itself. Later, I am sitting on the bay, which is today occupied by the Memorial Garden, facing the Rio de la Plata. With me is Daniel Coifman, a psychotherapist friend who has spent a couple of seasons at the Esalen Institute of Big Sur, travelled several times to India and, to put it briefly, gone exploring the mysteries of consciousness. Our bicycles are leaning against each other.

I tell him that I can remember all the places that we have been: the Planetarium, the level crossing near the airport, the crossroads near the Fishermen’s Club. Also, the wind on my face, the water splashing the railings, the smell of food at the restaurants when he made a detour to avoid the two elderly people who were drinking maté… However, I do not remember the thoughts that I had. I was distracted. I didn’t know where I was. I only knew in that moment that “I am here”.

Daniel jumped up. “No, you were not distracted,” he says. “You were abstracted, but you were not absent. And believe it or not, it is exactly the opposite.”

—-The Bicycle Effect by Juan Carlos Kreimer

A couple of weeks ago, during the time I was doing nothing but work – including going in through the weekends – I took a couple hours off and met Candy at a big fund-raiser garage sale put on by a large, local church. We arrived at the very end (will have to make a note to go early next year – to get the good stuff) and, even though everything was picked-through, they still had a lot of interesting items.

I was looking at a big, old-fashioned overstuffed office chair when the announcement came out, “Only two hours to go, everything is half-off the marked price.” I bought the chair, and found a thin Bluetooth keyboard mounted in an IPad case for, well, almost nothing. I don’t own an IPad, but the keyboard popped out of the case. I pulled up my phone and confirmed that it worked with the keyboard. So I bought it.

I am always looking for an inexpensive, light, small keyboard device that I can carry with me, especially something I can carry on my bicycle. It has to be small and light… and inexpensive, so I don’t have to stress out about losing it, getting it stolen, or breaking it in a crash.

Over the years, I’ve used an Alphasmart Neo Keyboard, a cheap Android Tablet with a folding keyboard, and, most recently, a repurposed Toshiba Netbook running Lubuntu Linux.

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

My Toshiba Netbook – rode my bike to a coffee shop.

The Netbook and the Tablet will still have their uses, but the Bluetooth keyboard is an extra lever of portable. I have to carry my phone anyway, so the keyboard only adds a few ounces. My big, old fingers don’t work very well hammering out a lot of text on a tiny phone screen. The keyboard makes it possible to write at least a few pages at a sitting.

The keyboard is perfect – light and small. It’s very well thought out. I am using it with the case removed from my phone so it can lean up on the slot that runs across the keyboard.

Bluetooth Keyboard and my phone.

I brought along a library book as well as my Kindle Paperwhite. The book is The Bicycle Effect – Cycling as Meditation by Juan Carlos Kreimer.

It’s a short book – less than two hundred pages – about the Zen aspects of riding a bicycle. I copied some money quotes from the book into my phone.

The book talks about destinationless riding – a Zen state of pedaling the streets without care for speed, time, distance, or direction. I am rarely able to pull that off – though I understand and crave the state. Today, I was able to leave home on my folder without care for a route or time.

My folding bike, Stock Xootr Swift – I only added the seat bag and bottle cage
(click to enlarge)

After a few miles I did notice that I was hungry so I detoured to a favorite Americanized Chinese place in an old Dairy Queen not far from where I found myself. So now I can read a little, type a little, and eat a little.

Before long I’ll be bored and ready to pedal again. Where am I going to go?

Who knows?