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Andrew Singleton
White and Nerdy. Est. 19821
White and Nerdy. Est. 19821


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Apologies on if this is too far off topic and if so feel free to delete/lock/whatever. However given I have been told the concept looks like something out of the late 80's or early 90's here seems like the best place to pitch.

Basically I'm trying to figure out how to refine this from 'hazy concept some random internet guy has' to 'thing that might actually be build-able if enough money and talent got thrown at it.'

I give to you the concept design for The Gutenberg.

Yes this is very 'alphasmart' inspired. The idea batted around my head because, frankly, I hate the Hemmingwrite/Freewrite's design focusing on 'LOOK AT ME' rather than boring practicality. That and I think part of what caused the alphasmart to fail outside of the majority of people not knowing what the things were, was 'ipads are cool. chromebooks are in. let's do those.' That and the fact for $180 or even $120 that was what they were selling the Alphasmart at to just get rid of the units in the warehouse  (especially the $350 or so Freewrite costs) you can get OKish tablets, especially at bulk rates schools are likely able to achieve.

I realize there is no market for this. Most will see it as a neutered tablet. Those that might see value in it would just go get a $20 alphasmart off ebay. this is just a device I want and wish existed. Something between 'word processor', 'dedicated e-reader' and 'tablet.'

I want it to do the following things:
Proper full travel keys. Not chiclet keys. I don't care if they're membrane or not since right now I'm on a twelve dollar logitech keyboard and it feels a lot nicer than chiclet.

Word Processing. Preferably would like it to spit out some form of formatted text (be it markdown, HTML, or RTF. If HTML It would only allow basic formatting (heading size, bold, Underline, Italic. Adding the ability to create links is tempting but probably not a very good idea, though being able to make it link to different files on unit would be kinda neat... my worry though is 'oh hey let's add one more feature, just one more. Aww come on it can do This so why not That.) However straight up plain text is going to always be recognized so long as ASCII is used.

Plug into the usb on something else either to transfer files out, hit a button so it 'types' out whatever's open into the device it's plugged into (that sees it as a keyboard and storage device.) I want the device it's plugged into to see both a 'keyboard' and 'storage device.' This is because I want there to always be some way of getting information OUT of this thing.

Being able to run off AC power, preferably off a cellphone charger and microusb. Would be nice if this is the same USB port you plug in to get data in/out.

Able to read epub docs since 'why not'. Plus that would allow it to also act as an e-reader. That would actually be pretty useful for the sake of reference documents. Wikipedia allows binding up bunches of articles together as epub. Open Office/libre writer can save to epub. Give it just that little bit more functionality than the Alphasmarts had and you unlock a lot of possibility for a low power device to reference material, then alt+tab back to your document to edit.

An SD card slot (full sized SD card mind you.) While I want the unit to be able to save files on device to ram (to keep chances of any internal storage getting corrupted from constant overwrites. Yes that means the thing forgets everything not in a rom update when the power goes, but still I consider that acceptable) I also want a more permanent on device option and SD cards are kinda everywhere. Would be nice if it supported 64gig cards, but if it could only support 32 and down that's OKish too.

Black and white screen so there's less need for power. After all it's only going to do word processing, ebooks, file management, and optionally music.

User Replaceable Battery of a common enough type that when it goes bad a new can be relatively easily be gotten. Willing to go with AA batteries if 4 - 6 can give it a decently long life. However that is probably not in the cards, but it's definitely something I would want to aim for at least as a form factor so it'd be there as an emergency backup so it's at least usable on the go if your lithium ion pack dies out. I do not know if that's doable, just... what I would want to aim for if possible.

Optionally/Would Be Nice:
A headphone jack so you can listen to music while you work. Note I do NOT want in-unit speakers. Just a headphone jack.

E-Ink screen. This is so it can be read in direct sunlight and with the sort of use it has that should be plenty fast enough refresh-rate wise. The big problem here is e-ink would drive up cost and I don't know how you would properly protect the screen so it can stand getting bumped now and then. Even LCD screens are kinda hard to find.

Debating heavily on if it's needed or not.
Wifi so you can sync to a central server (include Windows, OSX, and Linux solutions so you can set up using whatever computer you own, or have the 'server' be a networked drive) for document syncing not to a 'cloud' but to a local machine that would either be the teacher's personal box, or for those at home a dedicated backup device so you have your copy on device, copy on SD card, and off site copy. I cannot count how often I have lost work and wished a backup existed, or finding backups I'd forgotten about years later. The problem is WiFi just sucks down power and drives cost up. That and 'oh it wifi's. Why not give it a bare minimum lynx browser?' well then you're screwed for being task oriented. I just like the idea of being able to remotely grab things sent from the local server for tests, work. being able to sync material, and so on. 

Raspberry Pi would be complete overkill for this. I'm not sure Arduino would be right for it. Plus I want something that looks kinda like the pictured device, so even if there's a half inch thick case that's still not a lot of room for extra bells and whistles.

So what kind of chip would best serve as the heart of this beast? Support chips? I would ask what kind of programming is needed, but until a CPU is decided it's useless to ask. Due to this community being what it is is there any sort of chance of older chips able to serve as the heart of this beast? It's retro as is so why not go full bore outside of the USB and SD card interfaces?

Where would I go to try getting a keyboard for this thing made? Would i basically have to make one out of tac switches myself?
Is there any way to make this thing able to put up with the occasional drop? I don't plan on using it like a football, but I'd like it to keep working in case it's knocked out of my hands.

What kind of hinge design would work? The idea of this thing being a clamshell so the screen is adjustable, and it is its own protective case appeals to me. Sure the image for the fake Alphasmart is a hingeless solid body, but I want this thing to fold, tuck away into a carry bag and act as ts own screen protector.

Is there any chance anyone else has any interest?

Something +Darryl Park put in a document that I find applicable to anyone doing #tabletop or other group-based #rpg:


It is assumed that one player is the game moderator (GM) who will adjudicate and apply the rules fairly. We emphasize the fair part, as a GM who favors one person or just wants to be that adversarial type to the player characters ruins the fun to be had in an RPG. Players, if your GM is clearly biased or not trying to make sure everybody is having fun, then you need to talk to your GM or find a new one. Conversely, it is the responsibility of the players to be responsible for their own behavior. Everybody should be reasonable, honest, clearly communicate, and be willing to admit mistakes.

The mechanics for the game are meant to be fairly lightweight. The design assumption is that the players and GM describe what is happening and then mechanics are found to fit the situation at hand. If mechanics are even required; no dice should be rolled if failure is not at least as interesting as success. Similarly, if failure would not move the plot along, it is not worth leaving the outcome to chance.

An exception to that principle is there are moments where dice are rolled to create tension among the players, and that is the primary purpose of combat and why it is always played out with the mechanics. But if a combat scene devolves into a situation where it is all over but for the dying, move out of combat and just describe the outcome instead of letting it drag out.
A second exception to the rule as well is if the GM wants to determine just how well something is accomplished. That is, the outcome is certain or necessary but it would be entertaining to see just how awesomely the characters accomplish a thing. This particular exception is designed to give characters spotlight moments to show off. Use it sparingly and make sure no one character is in the spotlight too often.
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Worth remembering the man knew how to laugh at himself.
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Hey guys, been away from G+ for ages probably should start using it again since i was here since the closed beta.
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Everything you wanted to know about cryptocurrencies but was too afraid to ask.
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Oh Shit. Infocom Documentary by Jason Scott. I know what I'm watching tonight.
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Demons in the classical sense behave surprisingly like programs. They are designed for a task. you must perform precise actions to invoke their use, have a soul devouring cost associated with use of the more useful ones, and if you make mistakes your life is ruined.
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A Week with AlphaSmart Neo in 2017

Do you want a device that has zero internet connectivity, can't play games, has a screen that can only display two to six lines of text, and is no-longer being sold outside of ebay?

Well, for many people those minuses turn this device into the perfect drafting tool. OK that last minus is a pain in the neck since in the unlikely event something happens you're kind of on your own. However even though these devices are a decade old, they're so simple there's not really a lot that needs to be worried over outside of an internal coin battery and general cleaning.

I first heard about the AlphaSmart when it was new and going for roughly $250. Right around that time netbooks became a fad, and in response rennessance learning slashed the price to $200, then a few years later to $180, and then $120, and then they stopped being made. As it turns out even education markets with a slant towards special needs can be out-competed by tablets, smartphones, and as much as the writing community that has sprung up around the AlphaSmart line of products has tried, there's just not enough to give a sustainable customer pool. To be fair unlike the iphone or traditional computers once you buy an AlphaSmart it pretty much is going to last you for an incredibly long time with no real need to buy a replacement, or an upgrade, or any real reason to spend more money unless you get supremely unlucky and your unit breaks.

I have had rather dim things to say about the Freewrite (formerly hemmingwrite) as I compare it unfavorably to the AlphaSmart in concept and most definitely in pricing. Let's take ebay out of the equation and put the AlphaSmart at it's introductory $250. That's still $150 cheaper than the hemingwrite, you have no dependance on a specialist cloud service that might or might not be around in ten years, and the neo's battery life is phenomenal. I've been using mine pretty regularly through the past week since acquisition and it's at 96%. Wiki, the official sources, and anecdotal user stories put the battery life at somewhere between 700 and 800 hours, with many users reporting 'well I hadn't changed them in a year I might as well put a fresh set in.'

Verses the freewrite getting 'a month' of use with a rather large asterisk behind that detailing the use required to get that 'month.' of battery use.

Also while far from a guarantee I do know that the AlphaSmart flickr community has been petitioning renaissance learning for access to an a SDK or some other way to modify and add functionality to the neo line. After all while the device does what it does well and adding too much functionality would be bad, having the ability to adapt to changing conditions is always nice.

Plus who knows, maybe if enough people show interest they'll try designing a new device.

This blog post was written on my AlphaSmart neo while windows was merrily updating and thus leaving my computer unusable. Can't actually upload the post until my computer gets up and going, but for me it's nice to know I don't need to worry about file formats, OS, or anything since all I need to do is plug the neo in, mouse over to whatever text field I want to dump the text in, and hit the send key so my neo can type out everything from the currently open file onto the computer.

It could be better, but I bought mine for $25 on ebay. It's easily worth $120, but in a world of tablets and smartphones I'm not sure it could sell at that price, and I don't know how much it would need to sell for to make money.

In the meantime I'm going to use the one I've gotten and maybe, hopefully, down the road we will see a newer version made.
A Week with AlphaSmart Neo in 2017
A Week with AlphaSmart Neo in 2017
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A Week with AlphaSmart Neo in 2017
Do you want a device that has zero internet connectivity, can't play games, has a screen that can only display two to six lines of text, and is no-longer being sold outside of ebay? Well, for many people those minuses turn this device into the perfect draft...
A Week with AlphaSmart Neo in 2017
A Week with AlphaSmart Neo in 2017
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Thoughtful of Obama to do. Classy even.
"Domestic surveillance can be a little tricky—check to make sure NSA is connected to ISP servers first."
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