Thursday, July 26, 2012

The New Kid

It's here! That was pretty much the reaction when I saw the big brown UPS truck pull up outside my house on Monday evening and drop off my new toy, this Neo2 (nee Alphasmart) which I'd traded in my old Pro model for. Rather kindly, the folks at Renaissance Learning threw in a sizable case free of charge, with various pockets and pen loops and things with which to tote the new gadget. To be perfectly honest, though, it's a bit of overkill, as this is an incredibly light, and relatively small device: much slimmer than the old Pro, and having the benefit of 25 years of technological development behind it in terms of a nicer LCD screen with proportional fonts, a very quiet and light touch, and the classic near-infinite battery life. It is as close to a portable typewriter replacement as you are likely to get these days.

I've already started redoing the novel that I dictated back in June, and although I'm not able to type as quickly as I can speak, I also can type far more reliably, and away from the main computer. I managed to knock a few paragraphs out last night in the bedroom, for example, far from the confusion of our kitchen after dinner. Already I'm pleased with the purchase.

My loyalties still lie with the Typewriter Brigade come November, of course, as I'm still hooked on marking up a physical written draft, and appreciate the permanence of a typed page compared to the nebulous nature of bytes, even those constructed on a device as reliable as this one. I did make one recent concession, though, and buckled down and bought a copy of Scrivener, after reading the countless accolades online from various amateur writers. Since I already do quite a bit of pre-organizing and am typing on paper, some of the tools meant to aid in drafting may not be as useful to me, but just going through the tutorial has shown me how I might use it to my advantage for rewrites. As nice as the Neo is for writing, it is still not a viable solution for large-scale edits -- nor was it meant to be -- and it's difficult to get a "big picture" view of my writing through a 5- or 6-line window of text.

Typed on a Neo2

Friday, July 20, 2012

On Libraries

Why didn't I spend more time in the library?

That's my regret du jour. I certainly developed a love of reading as a child, and had paperbacks that I read enough to wear the words from the page. But I don't remember actually going to the local public library much as a child: trips were few and far between, and generally tied to school assignments for research papers. Admittedly, our town library was small, and not an easy distance from our home. I actually had to consult a map of my hometown to locate it, and I now realize that it was on the outskirts of town, out by the county high school. Well, no wonder.

Still, what a shame. I made regular trips to our library in grad school when I lived in the Midwest, mostly to rummage through their meager CD collection in the basement to put together mix tapes for myself for the walk between my apartment and campus, or to raid their twice-yearly massive used-book sale. I don't think I ever actually checked out a book from there, though, which is also inexplicable, considering the typical impoverished lifestyle of your average graduate student. I didn't have a lot of leisure time for reading, I remember, typically trying to squeeze in a chapter or two of something at night before I fell asleep.

I'm making up for lost time now, with a monthly trip or two out to the local branch that sits an easy mile from my office. Fifteen minutes to walk out, fifteen back, and that leaves half an hour of browsing time. Since our system is computerized and has many branches, I'm able to tap into the large virtual corpus and request materials to be shipped to my local branch, and am emailed when they arrive, to really maximize that half hour. Today I was back in my old habits, checking out CDs, although this time it's to use for seeding my "songs heard" in the online music streaming service I use at work, and not copy to a cassette tape.

So why didn't I spend more time in the library? Access, I suppose, and general ignorance, and laboring under the false conception that I needed to own something to enjoy it, I guess. I've become a lot more borrow-friendly as I've aged. I still have those old favorite books at home on the shelf -- new hardback editions, most of them -- but I'm kicking myself retroactively for not taking more advantage of the great facilities I've had access to over the years.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Magic Touch

typecast 20120712

Safe travels, old friend. We typed many a word together!


A tip to any other AlphaSmart-hackers out there... Kryon plastic paint does all right, but it's still not optimal for this application. Very soon after this picture was taken, areas of paint started to rub off from the frequent contact with my hands. Either prime first and/or sand the plastic and/or use another product (like vinyl dye?) to personalize your Alphie. I'm leaving the new one alone.

AlphaSmart Pro, with poppies and camera strap

What brought this sudden turnabout on was the fact that I won* Camp Nano this summer, by pulling a Kobayashi Maru and declaring that "winning" meant "transcribing my already-written 2011 NaNoWriMo draft The Ballad of Congo Willy." I'd done some small-scale tests of the Dragon Dictate software before with some success, so it seemed reasonable for me to read the draft into the computer, tackling each day's worth of typing into a day's worth of speaking.

Sadly, me reading my novel aloud into perfectly-digitized prose was not in the cards for a number of reasons:
  1. It annoyed my wife for a month, since I was in front of the main computer all the time, which meant I was sitting in the kitchen, shushing people as they tried to go about the business of cooking, cleaning, or just walking through the house.
  2. The draft is very rough in spots, and I wasn't sure what to do about it. Revising as you talk isn't an option, honestly. I eventually gave up trying to fix as I talked, and just read everything.
  3. Horrible, horrible performance anxiety, if one can get such a thing sitting in one's own kitchen, reading a nasty draft into the computer. I, apparently, can.
Basically, I rushed through the reading so I could be done quickly, and so I could squeeze it in while I knew I'd be alone and not mortified that someone might overhear parts of the draft-in-process. That, coupled with my already shady diction, lead to winning sentences like this one appearing on screen:
For just a 2nd I caught a glimpse of someone else, dressed in gray, questionable or small tables traces of Honda wafted through the air.
What is this I don't even.

Worse yet, I realized that I want the main story to be written in present tense, not past tense. That means a stem-to-stern rewrite. And that means digging out the Pro... or choosing a replacement. And as much as I mockingly bad-mouth AlphaSmarts during NaNoWriMo, they have the same dead-simple operation and no-distraction philosophy as the typewriter. (And the 700 hour battery life kicks complete butt, too.)

Most importantly, Mrs. Clickthing approved of the trade-in deal (she who scored our trio of AlphaSmart Pros in the first place.) It's not Another Damn Typewriter coming into our house, after all, despite her enabling ways.

We'll see if the Neo 2 has the magic touch.