Tag Archives: Alphasmart

NEC MobilePro 900 as a Writer’s Tool

Wandererchronicles Nanowrimo Writing KitBeing a member of the Alphasmart community, I have developed an appreciation for older electronics. I’m very happy with my Alphasmart Neo for writing rough drafts and it is my go to machine for NaNoWriMo in November. However, after the writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo is over, I generally have revisions to do. The small screen of the Neo is simply not suited for this. One day I was surfing the machines that other writers were using for NaNoWriMo on Flickr and I came across a photo of a tiny Nec Mobilepro 900 as part of a writer’s collection along with a Acer Aspire 5100 and a moleskine notebook. It was the smallest “netbook” I’d ever seen. I thought it was simply adorable.

What is the NEC MobilePro 900? I was determined to find out more about this tiny mini-computer. It is such an antique machine that most people have never seen one before. When NEC first developed this machine for the business market back in the early 90’s, it was considered the top-of-the-line pocket PC, a fore-runner to today’s laptop. Jet setting executives would sport this handheld device that cost over $1000 new and would be able to stay in touch with their offices via cable modem or wifi, computing for the first time on airplanes or in their hotel rooms. They touted its speed, the state of the art connectivity via its gold Orinoco card and the Microsoft pocket office suite that came pre-loaded. The machine would turn on instantly with seconds to bootup and the keyboard, while small and portable, was still large enough to be comfortable to write on. Not only did the MobilePro 900 come with two CF ports, but it had a USB slot, one of the first portable machines to do so.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the device. I had considered purchasing a netbook to do my revisions at the coffeehouse, but after trying them out in the retail store I concluded that they were simply too slow to use, even for simple writing. Cost was also a factor. At the time I could purchase a used NEC MobilePro 900 with a case for around $60. Today, you can find them for even less. It made the NEC cost effective and portable enough that I was willing to give it a try.

The features of the NEC MobilePro 900:

    Instant on/off
    Keyboard is 92% of normal size
    Half sized VGA screen
    Pre-loaded with Microsoft Pocket Office
    Touch screen use with stylus
    Significantly lighter in weight than a notebook
    The unit measures 9.69″ x 5.05″ x 1.19″ and weighs 1.8 lbs. Very portable.
    Has USB connection, CF slot and PCMCIA slot – perfect for networking cards
    The NEC has 64 megs of RAM available to the user.
    A 32 meg flash ROM area where you can install programs, data and backup files.
    Battery life is around 5 to 7 hours

I’ve been using my NEC MobilePro 900 for over a year and love its portability and speed of bootup. However, it was not an instant turn it on and be able to write situation. I needed to research the antique software and old accessories that were needed to make it into a productive, non-distraction, writing machine. Once all of these adjustments were done, it has become an excellent inexpensive writing device. If you are a student or a writer without much funding to buy a full-fledged computer, I recommend that you look into purchasing a NEC MobilePro 900 on eBay. It could be the writing solution that you seek.

How an Alphasmart 3000 Helped Me Conquer NaNoWriMo

Alphasmart 3000In the year 2010, I was facing the fourth year that I was to attempt National Novel Writing Month or as it is affectionately known, NaNoWriMo. The goal of writing 50,000 words in a single month is a daunting task, but I knew if I wanted to become a novelist, it was a skill that I needed to learn. For my fourth attempt I needed to make a change in the way that I wrote, otherwise I feared that I would fail again. My main problem was not being able to write away from home where my desktop remained. I work on the road for many days in November and I always lost far too much time in my hotel room stays.

On the forums of the NaNoWriMo website, there were recommendations for an Alphasmart 3000 and the Alphasmart Neo to use instead of a laptop. These were writing tools that were designed for young students to write compositions in the classroom. I had never seen one before, but I was intrigued. I could take one of these with me on the road and do my writing and then use the “send” feature to upload my work into whatever word processor I was using. Learning that an Alphasmart 3000 was around $30 on eBay, I was sold. I did not want to invest in an expensive laptop only to discover that I did not enjoy writing away from home.

In October 2010, my AS3K arrived in the mail. The device was a transparent teal with grey keys and had a small window for digital text. I was not sure if I liked having such a tiny window as I worked, but since this was an experiment, I was willing to give it a try. I did not bother to buy the AS3K a protective sleeve. I simply tossed it into a cloth tote bag along with my pocket thesaurus. It was rugged enough to hold up to such abuse. When I went to my first write-in, I was amused by the number of people that stopped to ask me what I was writing on because they had never seen one.

Due to the small screen size, I was not certain if I would like writing on the Alphasmart, but became a convert to it. The screen is 4 lines high and 40 characters in length. The LCD screen has a high contrast and is easy to read. Since I am able to scroll up and down and do minor editing, I am able to keep my train of thought as I wrote, leaving the main editing to my desktop at home. During the write-in, I was not distracted by websurfing as the writers with netbooks or laptops were, all my time was funneled toward the written word. At the end of the evening, I discovered that the final word count of my project was much higher due to this. I also liked that I did not have to fight for a chair near a power outlet as the other writers did. My Alphasmart 3000 has all the power it needs. The biggest surprise was the satisfying click of the full sized keyboard that reminded me of the old-fashioned typewriter that I had back when I was kid. It was a joy to write on compared to the soft keyboards of more modern computers. After the write-in, I was able to come home and upload the text into my computer via a USB cable. The only drawback to the unit was that it did not have a word count feature and the word processing software is somewhat primitive.

I was able to conquer NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2010 and I credit this success to the acquisition of my Alphasmart 3000. It became my main writing machine when I was away from home for two years. I like the Alphasmarts for rough draft work. The small screen size helps prevent your inner editor from interrupting the flow of your writing and you get more words down that way. Later, in revision, I work in Scrivener on my desktop. Late in 2011, I decided to upgrade to the Alphasmart Neo and it is the machine that I use for my rough drafting today. The Neo has a slightly more comfortable keyboard, a screen that can hold up to 9 lines of text and it can hold more text. The word processing software is better and it has spell check, a thesaurus and a word count feature.

If you are a new writer in search of an inexpensive machine to use for NaNoWriMo, I recommend that you look into the Alphasmart 3000 as your first writing tool. Get a feel for the keys and the non-distraction writing format and you will never look back.

Filofax Writing Journal

Filofax Writing Journal and Alphasmart NeoFinding alternate sites to write in is proving to help me to increase my writing productivity. While I have a studio set up in my home that is set aside for me to write and make jewelry in, there are times when the familiar surroundings lull me into the doldrums where little creativity happens. To counter this, I like to find locations outside my home to write in. Sometimes this place is simply my backyard patio, but other times I drive over to the local coffeehouse, treat myself to a fancy coffee and use one of their tables. Power outlets are often hard to come by when I’m out in the world, so I’ve designed a system that is as electric independent as possible. This includes my digital typewriter, the Alphasmart Neo, a paper bound thesaurus and a new Filofax journal to hold all my research notes, character sketches, outlines and word count charts. Everything fits into a large tote bag, so when the writing bug strikes me, I just pick up the bag and go.

My writing journal is a Filofax Crimson Malden that my husband gifted to me for Christmas. The smooth leather, multiple pockets and sturdy rings will make for a rugged, yet elegant writing journal. Moving into the journal with my notes has been an adventure. The most difficult part was learning how to format the printing of my notes out of Scrivener in a meaningful way and of organizing them so that I can find what I need quickly as I write.

The front part of my Filofax is quite ordinary. It holds a plastic pouch for odds and ends and a plastic divider with an inspirational poem. Behind that are various charts that came with the new Filofax, weights and measures, time zones and other general information that is good to have at your fingertips. The next section is a Month on two pages (MoTP) calendar that I use to track my writing output. Word count, what I was writing, how long I was writing and where I was writing are all tallied each day. This is a simple section that takes less than 10 seconds to notate at the end of the day.

Next is a Week on Two Pages (WoTP) section where I keep the present month and the next month in the binder. There I jot down a writing todo list for each day and check if I finish the project or not. I also write down what posts are scheduled to appear on my writing website.

The heart of my writing journal is the research notes section for my novels. Each novel gets a similar section in the writing journal. At the front of each section is an index of characters. Simply all the main characters in the novel. Each character’s full name, titles and other quick reference items are noted on one line per character. Behind the index is my novel outline. Each chapter has a paragraph devoted to what happens in it. A loose road map of what I need to write there.. Finally, behind that is a alphabetical divider system where I place all the character sketches, scene descriptions and maps and other related materials in alphabetical order. If I can’t remember a character’s name, I find it on the index. From there, I can find more related information on the character by flipping to its place in the alphabet.

The research section of my notes is all printed from files I keep in my writing program, Scrivener. I’ve used Nellie’s Guide to Printing on Personal Sized Paper from Philofaxy to print on personal sized filofax paper to facilitate my notes. I end up with clean, professional looking, double side printed notes that are easy to read.

Alphasmart Neo

Alphasmart Neo and Samsonite Shuttle Case
Alphasmart Neo

Getting out of my studio to write is one of the best ways I have to break writer’s block.  Finding a new location that is free of the daily distractions that I find at home fosters a higher word count and writing productivity.  When I am working on a rough draft, there is nothing I enjoy better than sneaking off to the local coffeehouse to enjoy a cup of coffee and to write for a few hours.

I am a convert to using an Alphasmart Neo for my drafting hardware.  The machine is lightweight, coming in at around 2 pounds and is extremely sturdy.  Originally, the machines were designed to be used in classrooms for students to practice their typing and writing and therefore can withstand a great deal of abuse.  They are still used in the classroom today, but the Alphasmart Neo has also found a favored place among professional writers.

The Neo’s main advantage is that it offers distraction free writing.  With no internet connection on this device, there is nothing to get between you and the written word.  The Neo has a rudimentary word processor that allows you to see only 8 or 9 lines at a time. It is supplemented by a dictionary, a thesaurus and a word count feature.  The machine instantly switches on or off at the touch of a button and it runs for 700 hours on 3 AA batteries.  To power my machine, I put in fresh batteries once a year and never think about finding power for my Neo again.  It is a real pleasure to not have to worry if there is an available outlet at the coffeehouse or to take my Neo to the park and write outside if I choose.  The Neo battery life sets you free.

Getting the text out of the Neo is simple.  You can use the Neo Manager software to upload or download files or use a cable to send your data to any word processor you happen to have open.  You could send directly to an email file, to your blog post manager or any open word processor.

The Alphasmart Neo is my drafting machine of choice.  Which machine do you use?