AlphaSmart Dana

I have an ongoing project for creating a distraction-free computing

environment based on an intel NUC running Linux. It's a fun project,

but better suited for a workbench than for a study desk where I prefer

something with a laptop form-factor I can move around. I've taken to

using a vintage Alphasmart Data for studying. I'd wanted a Dana back

when I was in college but it was out of my price range then. It's a

pretty slick beastie that runs Palm OS, has dual SD/MMC card slots and

can emulate a keyboard to upload documents - pretty slick for the

early 2000s when pretty much everything needed a custom driver. I

picked this guy up on Ebay for $65 and take notes in markdown which I

convert to pdf with PanDoc. The Neos get more attention as a

distraction-free writing tool, but having both I like the Dana a bit

more. Although the resistive digitizer reduces contrast compared to

the Neo, it can display a lot more text, has a backlight, is more

responsive, and can run PalmOS apps. With smartphones a thing, PalmOS

apps aren't super useful anymore, but it's nice to have stuff like a

timer or unit converter handy - stuff that don't involve syncing with

the outside world. I usually use it with my HP Prime G2 graphing

calculator. Thanks to test restrictions, calculators are the last

vestige of offline computing left.

AlphaSmart Dana on my study desk

I believe that the Danas were discontinued sometime in the 2000s,

while the Neos lasted until the early 2010s when they were presumably

killed off by netbooks/cheap laptops/tablets/chromebooks. Supposedly

when the Neos were discontinued they ran for only $130 new. It's a

shame that they are gone since there is about nothing left to give an

offline computing (or at least note-taking) experience. There is the

FreeWrite Traveler, which looks pretty sharp and gets a dose of

retro-be-gone compared to the overly hipsterish original FreeWrite,

and the embedded cursor keys seem pretty slick. However, for my use

it's still overly opinionated in that it focuses on being an

electronic typewriter - great for typing out stream-of-consciousness

but not great for editing. Hopefully FreeWrite will eventually produce

a Traveler variant with a more conventional LCD display instead of the

slow-updating E-ink.

Art, 2020-11-22